“By all the Elementals, what’s going on?” An enraged voice exploded through Sapphire’s ears, jarring her from a rather pleasant dream about sailing across the ocean to a distant and undiscovered continent. She rubbed her eyes and sat up to see a plains dwarf in clerical robes glaring at a hapless Franclin, who was slowly climbing out of the bed that he was sharing with Ondernifam.
“Sorry.” Franclin yawned and shook his head. “You were gone by the time I got back last night, so I-”
“And where were you?” The dwarf’s voice pitched higher than any dwarven voice that Sapphire had ever heard before. “Do you know what went through my head when I woke up and found you missing?”
“I… I’m sorry.” Franclin glanced down at the ground. “I just… I found these people, and…”
“And you brought them all back over and wound up sleeping with an orc!” The dwarf continued to berate him. “You couldn’t even have the decency to sleep with a girl of your own species?”
“Hey!” Sapphire frowned. “If you really think I’m climbing in the same bed as him, you’ve got another thing coming. He’s lucky I haven’t killed him by now.”
A soft flash of understanding flickered over the dwarf’s face. “Wait. You know these people?”
“A fact that I often try to forget.” Garnisic’s voice echoed from the floor next to the bed that Sapphire shared with Kisidera. The vampire at that moment seemed to be trying to ignore the commotion by covering her face with a pillow. Garnisic climbed to his feet and stomped around the end of the bed, a scowl on his face. “He… Barn? Highsand Barn?”
Sapphire glanced back and forth between the two dwarves as the cleric, who stood in the doorway of the room, lit up like a torch. “Garnisic! My, it’s been some time!”
Barn swept across the room and grasped Garnisic’s hand, who shook it readily. Sapphire could see hesitation written across Garnisic’s face, but he nonetheless seemed pleased to recognize the newcomer.
“Hold on.” Sapphire cast a spell of awakening on herself, grimacing as a soft pain flared through her body. She came back to full awareness, though it did little to lessen the confusion. “If you two know each other, I think we’re all in need of some introductions.”
There was a short pause while everyone looked at each other. Finally, Garnisic sighed and gestured at the cleric. “This is Highsand Barn. Consuming Wave, right? We actually stayed at his village when we fought that gargoyle, and then he was at Nettingo during the battle against the dark angels.”
“And you walked away alive?” Sapphire swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up, stretching in the morning air. “I’m impressed.”
“Franclin and I left together on an important mission.” Barn crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at Garnisic, who simply nodded back softly. “Garnisic and I were working together with the king on a particular project. I’ll have to debrief him on that, later.”
“I just love not being important enough to merit being told secret plans.” Sapphire sighed and leaned against the wall. “So how did you and Franclin meet up?”
“At the battle, I’m afraid.” Barn sighed. “Franclin arrived to help fight the angels. After the battle, I needed protection.”
“What happened to him since?” Sapphire raised an eyebrow at the worn and weary Hunter, who had since curled up under the blanket once more. “He looks like he has post-war illness.”
“I’m afraid he might.” Barn sighed. “He’s been going to the Sorosin clerics for help.”
“And now that we’re all talking about me, I think I’ll be heading that way.” Franclin slowly climbed out of bed and stumbled towards the door. “Anyone want to come with me?”
“Will there be people to fight?” Ondernifam rumbled softly.
“With my luck, possibly.” Franclin sighed and rubbed the back of his head. After a few seconds, he let out a small whimper. “I know it sounds stupid, but if someone could come watch to make sure no one attacks, I’d be appreciative.”
“I will stand guard over you from dawn until dusk!” Ondernifam snarled and jumped out of the bed, nearly flattening Franclin in the process. “Simply point me at an enemy and I will slay them!”
Franclin flashed an appreciative smile up at the orc. “Thanks. Come on, let’s go.”
Still in his bedclothes, Franclin turned and stumbled through the door. Ondernifam followed, and the two of them vanished as the door fell back shut. Highsand Barn sighed and clapped his hands.
“Well, I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting to be faced with this sort of situation. If you don’t mind my asking, what brings you here?”
Sapphire grimaced. “Vampires. From what we can tell, there’s some sort of regional vampiric lord operating out of Tirinnoufin.”
Barn sighed and sat down on a chair next to the door. “I’m afraid that such news doesn’t surprise me. Tifingor has long been a hive for vampires.”
“While that much may not surprise you, there’s a bit more.” Sapphire sighed. “We think he’s in contact with someone named Lilith. From what we can tell, she’s some sort of vampire lord who’s trying to unite vampires across Calsin. We ran into a minor lord in Donenrot who had an invitation from her, and now this much more powerful lord seems to be consolidating power to lend to her.”
“Curious.” Barn stroked his beard. “Do you think she’s trying to take advantage of the current instability to try and raise a new empire?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” Sapphire shrugged. “I just know that we’re trying to stop her.”
Barn continued to stroke his chin, then shrugged. “If you’d like, I can take you to someone who might be able to help. I wouldn’t call him a friend, but he’s trustworthy and has a great number of contacts that can help. Ambassador Talfin.”
Garnisic groaned, and Sapphire winced. She had only met Talfin for a brief time, but complaining about his deeds was a constant source of entertainment for Garnisic and Ondernifam. And, previously, Hesione.
“I’d like that.” Sapphire nodded and pushed herself away from the wall. “The sooner we begin, the sooner we can get things moving.”
“Indeed.” Barn sighed and climbed to his feet again and gestured at Garnisic and Kisidera. “Will the two of you be joining us?”
“Nope.” Kisidera’s voice was muffled underneath the pillow. “I’ll just stay here and get some sleep. Like a normal, breathing person.”
Barn frowned at that statement but didn’t comment. Garnisic glanced up at Sapphire and gave his head a slight shake. “I think I’ll stay here too. I’m not exactly keen on seeing that fish again.”
This time, Barn’s eyes opened significantly. “You know Talfin?”
“If by know you mean I’m familiar with the way he interrogates victims, then yes.” Garnisic nodded. “Oh, don’t forget the time he sent a minotaur after us just to get us to investigate a nearby sinkshaft because he was too lazy to do it.”
Barn idly scratched the top of his head. “I didn’t say he was the most morally upstanding individual in Calsin.”
“Let’s just head out.” Sapphire flashed a small smile. She bent down and grabbed her robes off the floor. “Just let me get changed and I’ll be ready.”
The males in the room quite graciously averted their eyes, and she quickly changed her clothes. With that, she and Barn swept out into the hallway and let the door fall shut behind them. They quickly made their way through the inn, out the front doors, and into the city proper.
As they walked, Sapphire couldn’t help glancing back and forth at the surrounding architecture. It was fascinating how one city could vary so much from another city built by the same species only a few dozen miles apart. Barn seemed to notice her looking, and flashed a small smile.
“It’s really quite beautiful, isn’t it? I love the way the sun sparkles through the sea glass. Hurts a bit around mid-day, but the pain to me is worth it.”
Sapphire sighed and nodded. “It’s something, that’s for sure. Nothing like the other cities I’ve seen.” After a second, she chuckled. “At this point, that’s starting to include quite a list.”
“There was a time when I thought I’d never leave Taninor and Dirnor.” Barn sighed in response. “And yet, here we are. I certainly agree, industrial Tifingor construction truly is beautiful, unique across Calsin.”
They continued to walk for a few minutes in silence. Sapphire didn’t really know what to say to him, it was just so strange the way that they had been introduced. Barn seemed to feel the same way, and mostly kept to himself.
As they made their way through the winding streets of the city, the world began to come alive around them. Shuttered windows swung open, smoke began to curl from the chimneys of bakeries and homes, men and women alike began to exit the safety of their homes and venturing out into the world. Sapphire watched it all happen, and just… Wondered.
What was it like to live in a place like this? What was it like to just stand still, not chasing after every passing danger? What was it like to be one of the people who were protected, not the one doing the protecting?
As if to remind her of her born duty, the Goblet jumped on her belt, giving her leg a mighty whack. She skipped in pain, and Barn glanced in her direction.
“You are a sorceress of the Goblet?” His eyebrows raised. “I know we’ve only met briefly in the past, but it seems that I remember you wielding the Pendant.”
“That’s a long story.” Sapphire sighed. “But yes, it’s changed. Throw the Ring in there for good measure.”
Barn chuckled. “It seems that every day I learn of more things that the Angel Incursion affected. At least I can only presume that these events led to a significant enough change that your artifact switched?”
“You could say that.” Sapphire rubbed her forehead. “Can I ask you a question?”
Barn inclined his head. “Of course.”
“What do you do when you don’t know what the right thing to do is?” Sapphire winced as she realized what had just come from her mouth. “I know that’s confusing, but-”
“Believe me, as a Highsand, I’m asked that question more than you might realize.” Barn chuckled, then sobered. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a great answer.” At Sapphire’s annoyed response, he sighed and held up his hands. “Were I a less experienced Highsand, I would likely quote some of the platitudes from the Songs of the Elementals. Were I fresh out of training, I would likely try to offer some sort of example from my childhood, or an example told to me during a lecture.”
He looked down at the ground, then nodded. “Given my current situation, I can honestly say that I find myself asking that question on a nearly daily basis. The world has become an increasingly complicated place. I don’t know how to help Franclin, I don’t know what words will help him get better versus accidentally ensuring that he stays in this pit forever. I don’t know what path to take in other aspects of my life. All I wish to do is prevent war and destruction, and yet I fear that my actions may cause ever-increasing death and desolation.”
Sapphire mock-scowled at him. “Well you’re a lot of help.”
“I was quite up front about my inability to assist.” Barn shrugged. “We live in strange times, Sapphire. If I was a betting man, I would assume that this Lilith you speak of is making her move based on the current political situation. With Elsinor rapidly collapsing, Sintison’s resources spent on conquest, and other nations attempting to secure their own borders, there will be less resistance to a vampiric uprising now than ever before. My greatest fear is that other, even darker organizations may attempt to do the same thing.”
Sapphire could only assume that Barn was referring to whatever his top-secret mission was. She desperately wanted to ask, but knew that in the reverse situation she would be terrified of someone attempting to procure information that she didn’t want them to have. In the same way, she was a bit reluctant to tell the newcomer every aspect of her adventures up until that point. They simply didn’t know each other that well; battle bonds were hard to forge.
They continued to walk in silence until they began to reach the upper districts of the city. There, large milestone homes sat on expansive plots of grass and shrubs, curated for elegance and design. The lawns in front of the homes were home to some of the only plants Sapphire had seen inside the entire city.
Barn quickly led Sapphire down the lane, stopping at a home that seemed to simply be in the middle of it all. It was two stories tall, and matched the other homes in the area almost perfectly. There was nothing remarkable about it, nothing that would make it stand out, and yet it still managed to command a certain respect.
Barn quickly walked up the cobblestone pathway to the front door and rapped smartly on the wooden edifice. Several seconds passed, and the door swung open to reveal a disheveled aqahartis on the other side. It had been over a year since Sapphire had met the man, and yet she was indeed certain that this was the correct individual. Of course, standing there in a night robe, he hardly commanded the same respect that he had done in Donisil. His hair was a mess, his eyes sported dark bags, his scales seemed a bit sickly.
“Talfin!” Barn exclaimed. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story and I scarcely think you could help anyway.” Talfin spat. “Now get inside before someone sees you.”
Barn inclined his head and scurried up inside. Sapphire followed, with Talfin closing the door with a sharp magical whistle as she passed through. With that, the man shuffled through a small doorway, past a flight of stairs leading upward, and into a room seemingly designed to entertain guests. He flopped onto a leather couch, simply sprawling across the piece of furniture, not even bothering to sit up.
“Talfin, what is this?” Barn thundered. “I don’t care if it’s a long story or not, I want to hear it!”
“She left me.” Talfin mumbled. “I made her angry, and she left me.”
“Druila?” Barn’s eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “She’s a child! What kind of sick, perverted monster are you?”
“Oh please.” Talfin snorted. “Not everything in life is about sinful relationships, or whatever it is that you ‘high-and-mighty’ clerics are always blathering on about. Some of us just have friends.”
Barn inclined his head. “I’m terribly sorry for the misunderstand, but-”
“Who’s the new chick?” Talfin gestured at Sapphire. “And why are you bringing her to me? I didn’t give you permission to bring people to my house. That’s reserved for Druila.”
“You’re worse than Franclin.” Barn muttered under his breath before sighing and shaking his head. “I brought her here because she needs your help.”
“So does everyone else on this lousy continent.” Talfin groaned. “What is it? You need dirt on the girl who’s trying to steal your boyfriend? You just want me to find you a boyfriend? Don’t worry, Barn, I won’t offer myself. Just-”
Sapphire sighed and pulled the goblet off her belt. With a flash of light, she transformed into her sorcerous clothing, felt the staff solidify in her hands, and pointed the glowing crystal at the aqahartis.
That got his attention. He yelped and jumped to his feet, backing up against the wall nearby. His eyes were wide, his breathing heavy.
“I don’t suppose you’d mind pointing that thing in a slightly different direction? Sorcerers are notorious for not being able to control their spells.”
“Oh, arethey?” Sapphire sneered. “I was able to control it just fine the last time that we were together, but I don’t suppose you’d remember that.”
Talfin blinked several times. “Sapphire? It’s been awhile.”
“About a year and a half, yeah.” Sapphire took a deep breath. “Now, if you don’t mind, I do need some help. We believe that there’s a vampire presence here in Tirinnoufin.”
Talfin sighed and nodded, slowly relaxing. He flopped over the arm of a nearby chair, landing on the hide-covered structure with a thud. “Yeah, I know. Been working on the problem for awhile now.”
Sapphire felt frustration growing within her chest. “And you haven’t done anything?”
“I’ve been doing lots of things.” Talfin spat. “The problem is that the vampires are more or less passive but have the capability of inflicting a massive dent on the population. I’m still trying to figure out how to destroy them without causing a massive civil war. Especially since the Angel Incursion took out so many people.”
“Uh, huh.” Sapphire crossed her arms. When several seconds passed without an answer, she held up her hands. “So? Am I going to be fighting them without any more knowledge than be careful or are you going to actually tell me something I need to know?”
Talfin groaned and shook his head, then frowned. She could almost see flames sparking to life in the aqahartis’s head. He slowly sat more upright, nodding slowly.
“I have a plan. It’s going to sound a bit crazy, but I need you to trust me.”
Sapphire frowned. “A few seconds ago, I wouldn’t have trusted you to drink a mug of ale without spilling it across the floor.”
“That’s a fair point, but I need you to lay that aside for a second.” Talfin glanced at Barn. “Druila left me a plan. It’s a wild plan, but it’s our best shot at success. If Sapphire can cast a small illusion for me, I think we’ll truly be golden.”
Sapphire nodded slowly. “What does that even mean?”
“What it means is that we take out all the vampires in this city in one fell swoop.” Talfin flashed a small grin. “Oh Druila, please come home.”
“You haven’t heard anything yet.” Talfin took a deep breath. “Alright, people! We’ve got a plan to put together.” He gestured past Sapphire, presumably pointing at the stairs that led to other parts of his house. “To my office!”
“Sir?” Horfin inclined his head as he walked up to Severin’s throne. “I have news.”
“I sincerely hope that it’s good news this time.” Severin sighed and turned to face the elven vampire. “I don’t suppose that the sorceress has decided to skip town? Or that the Dragon Hunter has relapsed?”
Horfin hesitated, and Severin sighed. A week earlier, the same sorceress who destroyed their mailing outpost had come riding into town and immediately gone to meet with Talfin. Since then, she had done practically nothing, which terrified Severin quite greatly. Talfin was many things, but a fool wasn’t one of them. If he had a proper sorceress at his disposal, he would use her. The only question was: How?
Of course, the news of her arrival had brought with it even more news: There was a Dragon Hunter staying in the city. He was under the care of the Sorosin clerics suffering from several post-battle illnesses, but he was there. That much in and of itself provided plenty of food for thought, as the closest registered Dragon Hunter was in Sintison. The only thing that Severin could assume from that bit of news was that the boy, Franclin, had somehow been given a black mark. Curiously, he wasn’t going on murderous rampages like most of the other black marks from Severin’s study. It all just made him incredibly confused, which only continued to grow with each passing day.
“No, the sorceress is still here. She was seen this morning eating at a tavern with the dwarf near the inn where she’s staying.” Horfin inclined his head. “As for the Hunter, he seems to be making progress under the clerics, but not much. The Songbird assigned to his case reported last night that whatever he saw has become so ingrained in his mind that he can’t separate it from reality. He literally sees danger everywhere he goes.”
“Curious.” Severin frowned. “Make a note to try and capture one of the clerics when this is all over. I’d appreciate being able to learn how to infuse such a state into a person. It could be useful in interrogations.”
“Note made.” Horfin inclined his head. “Now, on to the news itself. As you know, yesterday, we received word that a shipment of our avifruit was redirected through the city of Indifi.”
“Yes.” Severin nodded eagerly. That bit of news had rather confused him. He had ordered an investigation into the driver of the shipment, but hadn’t heard anything more. The only conclusion he could come to was that there was a hive of vampires in Indifi, but that didn’t match up with anything he knew. In fact, Indifi was a city that he had roundly avoided placing any vampires within, due to the sheer number of Sorosin clerics that trained and took up residence there. “Please, do tell me that you’ve learned something.”
“Indeed I have.” Horfin inclined his head. “It’s a bit roundabout, but one of my spies reported seeing vampiric markings on the court ambassador from the Provisioner of Indifi. It’s not much, and appeared to have been covered with paints, but they were certainly there.”
Severin frowned, stroking his chin. “If that’s true…”
His voice trailed off as he thought through the implications. If the Ambassador was a vampire, other high-ranking members of the Indifi court likely were vampiric as well. The shipment of fruit that they had stolen wasn’t much, and would have been missed entirely if Severin didn’t bother to check things so methodically.
“So what do we do with that information?” Horfin’s voice was quiet. “Any ideas?”
“Perhaps.” Severin stroked his chin. “I still need more information. I want to hear back from the driver of the wagon before I make any final decisions. In the meantime, what is the status from Overseer Fen?”
“He claims that he has a location picked out for your staging area, and is working on getting corporate approval for it. Shouldn’t be more than a few days longer according to his last report. If he’s telling the truth, it’ll be able to hold upwards of seventy thousand soldiers to prepare for our march.”
“Good.” Severin nodded, then frowned. “And the report from Overseer Henith?”
“Much of the same. He claims he can provide a location suitable for eighty thousand, with a path that will leave our forces undetected until far too much time has passed for us to be stopped.”
“Excellent.” Severin felt a smile breaking across his face. “And Ambassador Netherion?”
“She has a location capable of holding forty thousand. It’s not ideal, but she thinks it could be used for staging a distraction.”
“And you’re certain that they don’t even know about each other?” Severin felt utter giddiness rising in his chest.
“I’m quite positive.” Horfin inclined his head. “All three are operating in perfect autonomy. We believe that Talfin may know about Fen, but even that’s mostly circumstantial evidence. Apparently one of Fen’s personal belongings was stolen, with the culprit believed to be your intrepid brother.”
“Of course.” Severin sighed, then shrugged. “No matter, in any event. Keep all three staging areas in mind, and begin to make early preparations as soon as possible. We’ll decide where to stage once we’ve received more information.”
“Once we know how Talfin plans to counter us?”
“Indeed. He thinks he’s so clever.” Severin sneered. After a few seconds, he sighed and shook his head. “Unfortunately, it’s a thought that proves accurate more often than not.”
“If you don’t mind…” Horfin frowned. “Why not just kill him?”
Severin felt a hint of revulsion roll through his mouth. “He has a hidden token of detection. He has to activate it once per day or several letters get mailed out exposing us.”
“Right.” Horfin nodded slowly. “And why doesn’t he just do that?”
“Because right now, we’re content with the hosts that we have. We stay happy, we stay hidden, and vice versa.” Severin shrugged. “If we make any overt moves against him, he exposes us, and we have soldiers pouring down into the tunnels. On the other hand, if he makes any overt moves against us, people start dying.” He nodded at the open door at the end of the dusky throne room. “It’s why we need to march south. While we’re here, we’re stuck. If we can get to the sands of Notirot, there’s a chance that we can mount a successful defense.”
“I see.” Horfin inclined his head. “Forgive me, then, for asking.”
“Not at all.” Severin flashed a small smile. “At the end of the day, should I wind up as dust, we will need someone else to rise up and take command of our small nation. I expect that such a role will fall to you.”
“Thank you, my lord.” Horfin bowed once more before straightening up. “Such is all the news I have. I will inform you of any further developments.”
“Thank you.” Severin dismissed him, then paused. “On that note, I did order you to find a way to take Talfin out of the equation. Have you found a way to do so, yet?”
“Indeed I have, my lord. It even falls within all your boundaries that you just laid out.” Horfin flashed a small smile. “Give me until tonight, and I’ll make sure that Talfin is far too busy to bother with our plans again.”
Druila crouched in the corner of the office, watching Talfin frantically make plans with Barn and Sapphire, desperately trying to keep up with the seemingly never-ending stream of information and updates. A stack of books sat next to the desk as they perused the history of vampirism and the Fond’sar. Dozens of maps hung on the wall, covered in paints and threads as Talfin tried to keep it all straight.
She almost felt bad for him. Almost. She hadn’t been joking when she had stormed out of his office that night, she hadn’t been simply making up a story when she told him that she had just wanted a master to call her own. Someone to work with, someone to train her. Other people were just so boring.
After stepping out of his office, she had simply activated an invisibility token she had swiped from a dwarf many years earlier. It had worked wonders, apparently fooling even Talfin’s ears. She had then proceeded to slink around the house for several days, watching him to see if he would repent. And, while she certainly noticed him do a lot of moping, what she hadn’t seen was true sorrow. Sadness at her leaving? Certainly. Frustration at himself for driving her away? Absolutely. Annoyance that he now had to complete all his schemes by himself now? Overwhelmingly.
The problem was that he wasn’t sorry. Give it a month’s time, and he would go back to treating her exactly the same way as he had been doing. It infuriated her, it made her sick, and it made her want to scream.
As the group filed out of the room, Druila slowly climbed to her feet, making certain not to make any undo noises. Carefully, she slipped forward, gliding out into the stairwell. Talfin, now at the bottom, spun as her foot brushed against the stone. She froze, and he continued to stare up into the empty space for several long moments before shaking his head and turning away.
Once she was certain that he was gone, she continued down the stairs, treading down to the front door. There, she grabbed a small piece of gremstone, casting a stealth spell across the door hinges. As such, it was perfectly quiet as she slid out into the sunlight.
Her stomach rumbled softly, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten anymore more than crumbs in almost a week. Time to head back to her farm and grab some vegetables before heading off for her next destination. She sighed and strode down the street, deactivating the invisibility totem as she walked out of view of Talfin’s house.
So where to go next? Talfin had been the ninth master she had trained with. Number ten… Who to choose? Thomas, the sorcerous realm mage, had died only a few months earlier. There was a Windmaster in Donenrot who was looking for apprentices, and though they didn’t typically accept non-humans, there were always exceptions. The mysterious Lilith of the Desert certainly sounded intriguing, though she didn’t really want to end up fighting against Talfin in the future. He was annoying, but he had done well by her. Other options included legendary dwarven enchanters, secluded demigods, and even a reclusive Dragon Hunter in Donisil.
She was still pondering the question as she decided to take a quick shortcut through a seedier part of the city. She wasn’t particularly worried about running afoul of any of the residents, and she just wanted to be free of anything that Talfin had influence over. She set out at a brisk pace, walking past sulking adolescents, leering adults, and a whole host of beggars and others that society had rejected. Half a dozen avians could also be seen here and there, living among the trash and refuse of the society.
She was around halfway through the district when she walked out into a relatively open space. It was a small courtyard, having once been an open-air shopping district that had turned into a much darker space. A roof had been built over the top, blocking out the sun and likely many of the rains that pounded the poor country. Dozens of people stood around the walls, living in small structures made from scraps of wood and fabric.
Of course, littered among these people were several dozen vampires. All of them seemed to glide into motion the moment she stepped into the area. The hooded figures swarmed forward, blocking off all four alleys that led away from the courtyard. The homeless scrambled to escape, and Druila raised an eyebrow.
“I have to admit, I’m flattered. This much security just for me? You must truly consider me a threat.” She frowned, trying to put forward a more helpless front. “Unless you have me mistaken for someone else?”
“You are Druila, correct?” One of the vampires glided forward. His hood covered his face, but Druila guessed from the tones that he was likely high elven. “Talfin’s associate?”
“Not anymore.” Druila crossed her arms and shook her head. “He and I had a disagreement. You might say that I moved out.” She frowned, a genuine article of curiosity floating through her mind. “I also just left today. How’d you know I would be here, right now?”
“And I thought you were always so confident?” The high elf’s voice was growing annoying. “It seems to me that you must be-”
Druila sighed and tuned the man out. More than likely, Severin’s troops had a spell that allowed them to observe the inside of Talfin’s house. If they had that capability, they had probably just quite simply used a spell that encouraged people to leave their home. It would explain why she had left at the same time as Talfin and the rest. From there, once the seed had been planted, it would be little trouble for a cloaked aqahartis spy to direct her to their destination.
Of course, that left many questions. Aqahartis were notoriously good at camouflage. How many were watching her who were simply cloaked? How many daggers were inches away from her back right at that moment? How many vampires would truly be coming forth to strike her down?
“-capture you.” The vampire concluded his rant. “Come with us, and you won’t be harmed.”
“I’m sorry.” Druila raised a hand. “Can you come back with all that again? I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Oh, you weren’t?” The vampire hissed. “Then perhaps you will pay attention to this.”
A foot scuffed on the stone behind her, and Druila flashed a smile. She spun, drawing upon dozens of bits and pieces of material embedded within her body. She swung up her right foot, slamming the bare skin into an invisible head with enough force to stagger a man without any extra effects. With her magic, green fire blazed from her skin, blasting the man across the clearing and into a wall.
Before anyone else could move, she pointed her hands down at the ground and drew upon even more materials. A thick brown fungus exploded across the cobblestone, covering anything and everything. Most of the vampires dove backwards, scrambling for the exit, but the majority were covered in the thick mucus. It had the added benefit of covering half a dozen more cloaked aqahartis, revealing their positions quite well. Orange tendrils slithered out of the fungus a breath later, which subsequently plunged into the dead flesh and began to eat the vampires alive.
“There’s a good reason I could keep up with Talfin.” Druila flashed a small smile. “Don’t do anything you might regret. I want out of this city, and you want me out of it. Let me go.”
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” The lead vampire hissed from just beyond the fungus field. “I wasn’t listening!”
Fire blazed from the hands of the human vampires, burning away the fungus and clearing a path for the vampires to head back inward. Druila snapped her fingers, sending a bolt of lightning into the head vampire’s chest. He dropped to the ground with a scream, and Druila smirked.
“Was that loud enough for you?”
The vampires all roared and simply surged forward. Druila shrugged and conjured a shield around herself, a magical barrier that stopped all the attacks cold in their tracks. As the blasts of fire died down, the vampires all clustered up around her, their leering faces sneering down at her.
Finally, the lead vampire pushed through the crowd, his face now sporting a rather large scar across his right eye. Druila smirked, keeping the shield aloft. For a few seconds, they just stared into each other’s eyes, not moving.
“You’re good.” The vampire finally acknowledged.
“I’ve trained with the battlemages of the Karsel Family.” Druila shrugged. “I’ve tutored under the Persphonix. I even served a stint as a warlock for Gethsemia. You’re not taking me down.”
The vampire frowned, quite obviously weighing his odds. From Druila’s experience, they weren’t good. That said, they both knew that Druila wasn’t exactly in the best position either. She could probably fend off all the vampires, but there was no guarantee.
“Fine, then.” The vampire finally nodded slowly. “You said that you were angry with Talfin?”
Druila inclined her head, hopeful for the direction the conversation was taking. “Can’t say that I’m his biggest supporter right now, nope.”
“Then perhaps you would enjoy a deal?” The vampire held up his hands. “You come with us, help us ensure that Talfin fails, and we give you whatever you want.”
Druila raised an eyebrow. “Anything?”
“If we succeed, we’ll have an empire to rival Sintison and Elsinor.” The vampire smirked. “Name it, and if it’s within our power, it’ll be yours.”
“Alright, then.” Druila took a deep breath, rather enjoying the thought of such unlimited freedom. She didn’t know what she would ask for, but then, it wasn’t quite time for her to settle on a price anyway. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
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