The Shadow of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
Lord Devlin was angry; once again his plots and schemes had been thwarted by that damned WitchLord! Well, this time he would make the Tarran feel pain and suffering. He would take away the very thing that tied him to this plane. Perhaps then the Tarran would leave Andor for good.
Lord Devlin called his knights before him and explained what was expected of them. There would be no witnesses, there would be no prisoners, there would be no one left to tell the tale of what had transpired. He wanted the humans closest to the WitchLord to suffer, to die at the end, so those humans would be taken and dealt with separately. They would arrive in the manor grounds and all would die!
Lord Devlin teleported himself and his nine knights to the grounds of the Duke's manor in Realto. He slammed his staff into the ground and spoke the Eldritch runes of binding and protection; Et El. A stream of red energy erupted out of the end of the staff straight up into the air and cascaded down enveloping the entire area in a hemispherical dome of red Eldritch. No one could enter or leave and normal magic would not work within the dome!
The knights went about their master's orders and began slaughtering everyone within the dome. Realto, as well as De la Rose, guardsmen fell and began to pile up like cords of wood. No mere mortal could stand against a Thangdaemon Knight! The knights worked their way through the grounds, killing everything that stood in their way and converged on the manor house.
The first to be taken was Master Caleb. A knight overpowered him and bound him in Eldritch bonds and brought him before Lord Devlin. Isabelle and Micah were taken together and were also bound and brought before Lord Devlin. He now held three of the humans most important to the WitchLord, and he planned to execute them.
Micah, Isabelle and Master Caleb were having dinner when the alarm was sounded. Caleb asked for Micah and Isabelle to stay inside and had the inside guards stay with them as he went out to investigate. Micah contemplated calling on Aaron, but decided not to, as he needed to learn to handle things for himself. That decision was made in error, yet Micah had no way of knowing that Lord Devlin had already removed the ability to call for outside help.
Knights in black plate armor were on the manor grounds and going through the guards like a hot knife through lard. This was the second time that day that Caleb had seen these knights, and he was determined that this would be the last. It would be the last, unfortunately not exactly how Caleb had intended.
Caleb ran forward and engaged a knight blocking a thrust from his sword. He had worked with Aaron on successfully engaging one of these knights and he was putting his own tactics to good use. One on one, Caleb was doing alright, but when a second knight engaged him he knew he was outmatched. A quick swing with the flat of the blade and Caleb went down. The next thing he knew he was bound and being dragged over to where a sorcerer of some kind stood watching. Caleb was unceremoniously dumped on the ground at the sorcerer's feet.
"You are not going to get away with this," Caleb told the red robed figure.
"We will see, human," Lord Devlin replied with a chuckle.
Micah, Isabelle and a squad of guardsmen were standing in the great hall when a low fog began to form and the temperature began to drop. The doors swung open and three black clad knights entered the manor and engaged the guardsmen protecting the Duke and Lady. Isabelle tried to cast a spell but nothing happened. The next thing she knew she was backhanded to the ground and bound. She watched as Micah was overwhelmed and knocked to the ground as well. The rest of the guardsmen in the hall were slain. The pair were dragged out of the manor and into the courtyard where Caleb was on the ground in front of a sorcerer dressed in red robes and holding a staff.
"Well, well, well, what have we here?" Lord Devlin asked, looking down at Isabelle.
"Stand her up," he commanded the knight behind her.
The knight reached down and grabbed a screaming Isabelle by the hair and jerked her to her feet.
"You leave her alone!" Micah commanded, trying to stand. A knight knocked his feet out from under him and jerked him up into a kneeling position next to an already kneeling Caleb.
"So brave," Lord Devlin laughed. "This will be so much better, knowing you have feelings for her."
"A human sorceress, and a virgin as well," Lord Devlin sniffed the air, and then reached out and ripped her dress down the front exposing her for all to see. "Yes, she will do nicely for an offering."
"Leave her be," Micah screamed trying to struggle free. The knight standing behind Micah backhanded him across the head, causing his vision to blur.
"Check her for weapons," he commanded. A knight groped and checked her, removing a dagger and a small wand and then finished removing her ripped clothes.
"Hold her," Lord Devlin commanded as a knight pulled her against him groping her as she whimpered.
"Kill them," Lord Devlin commanded as Isabelle watched screaming.
The two knights standing behind Micah and Caleb raised their swords high in the air and swung them down cleaving them both in two. The blades entered their shoulders, close to the neck and travelled diagonally down through their spines and out the opposed side at the abdomen. The bodies fell forward in two halves.
"Milord, everyone is dead," a knight approached and genuflected.
Lord Devlin assembled his knights, removed the runes and teleported everyone back to his tower where Isabelle's screams could be heard long into the night, finally ending at dawn.
Colin and Calan Beadle were the oldest of four children, all of whom were in the family business. House Beadle was one of the richer merchant houses in the five realms, as well as one of the more influential noble houses of Aithen.
They had offices and holdings in all the major cities and their caravans delivered all manner of goods to all cardinal points in the western lands. The loss of a major merchant house would have long term repercussions within the Merchants' Guild and the loss of a major goods supplier would have long term repercussions within the western lands.
Aaron visited every home of every member of House Beadle. At each dwelling Aaron killed everyone in the home -- man, woman, child, servants, it did not matter -- everyone. At every home he left a black rose as his calling card. When he finished with the family members he began with the business members. He finished the last home just before dawn, having completely wiped out House Beadle. He did not return to Anastasia's home, instead he went to the 'Golden Pony' where he procured a room and a hot bath.
The Thieves' Guild in Realto learned of the massacre at the manor house just after sunrise and Master Nathan sent a secure communique to Master Drexil in Aithen right away. He did not realize that Aithen had its own issues, what with the demise of the Steward and his entire extended family, as well as the end of a Merchant House. Not one person tied to House Beadle lived.
By midday, the news of the death of Duke Calan and the whole of House Beadle sent shockwaves throughout the Merchant Guild and nobility of Aithen. Armed escorts followed all of the merchant masters and other noble houses throughout the day. An emergency meeting of the Guild Council was called by Master Gerard and all the masters brought bodyguards with them. Master Drexil read the report of the demise of the young Duke of Realto and with him the last heir of the House of Blackmoon. It was at this meeting that Aaron would learn that Micah and Caleb were dead and Isabelle was missing.
Aaron was up and out of the inn by noon. He had plans to talk with several of the Guildmasters and wanted to see Drexil first. When he arrived at the Thieves' Guild he was notified that the master was not in residence and was in fact at the palace in an emergency meeting of the Guild Council. Figuring that he could kill two birds with one stone, he headed for the palace.
He arrived at the palace and was escorted to the chambers of the Guild Council, which were closed as well as guarded.
"It is a closed session, Milord," a guard explained. "You are going to have to wait until they are done."
"They will see me," Aaron replied, stepping forward. The guard to Aaron's right placed his hand on his hilt as if to draw it when Aaron stopped him.
"You will never clear that sword before you die," Aaron stated in a matter of fact manner. "It would be better for you to open the door and take your chances with the masters inside."
The second guard nodded and opened the door on his side and Aaron entered. Aaron entered the chambers of the Guild Council to the surprise of everyone inside.
"Lord Aaron, I am glad you are alright," Master Drexil stood and approached his liege. "I am sorry about Realto."
"So am I, Drexil, so am I," Aaron nodded. "I have dealt with most of the individuals involved."
"So quickly, Milord?" Drexil asked. "York just sent the communique this morning."
"Wait, back up," Aaron looked at Drexil intently. "What exactly are you talking about? My father being killed or something else?"
"Well, yes, I am sorry for the loss of your father, of course," Drexil nodded. "I was speaking of the news out of Realto from last night."
"Drexil, what news?" Aaron asked slowly.
"Oh Gods! I am truly sorry Milord," Drexil looked down and then back up at Aaron. "Your brother, young Micah was killed last night. The entire manor was murdered, no survivors. I thought you would have already known."
"Who found them?" Aaron asked. "You said no survivors?"
"I am not sure who discovered the bodies," Drexil replied, "but that is correct, there were no survivors."
"There were things I wanted to discuss with several of the masters here, but that can wait," Aaron stated, clearly agitated. "Good day, masters." Aaron turned and left the meeting room. Out in the hall he had Black Rose teleport him to the manor courtyard in Realto.
Arriving in the courtyard Aaron looked around seeing several people moving bodies to a central makeshift morgue. He wanted answers and asked Red Rose if any residual magic could be detected. Red Rose responded that too much time had elapsed and any residue of magic would have already dissipated. He spotted Lieutenant Williams over by the stables supervising the removal of the bodies and went over to talk to him.
Lieutenant Williams had been out the day before with a patrol, having arrived back at the manor to find everyone dead. He brought Aaron over to an area of dead bodies covered by tarps and showed him the covered corpses of Captain Snyder, Master Caleb, Master Landon, and finally Micah. Micah and Caleb were cut in two; diagonally, execution style. Their hands were still bound behind their backs; Aaron could feel the energy coming off the red Eldritch bonds. He did not need to ask Red Rose; he knew what red Eldritch meant.
Aaron asked Williams about Isabelle, whom the Lieutenant had previously met, but Williams told Aaron that they had not found her body yet, but they would continue searching.
Lieutenant Williams wanted to know about any special dispositions of the bodies, to which Aaron gave him authority to either bury them or burn them, as appropriate. He asked that Micah be buried in the family plot. There was no headstone for his father or uncle, but at least Micah would have one. Aaron also told the Lieutenant that he was in charge of the garrison until relieved by higher authority from Aithen and then dismissed him.
Aaron spent some time alone with the bodies of his old Swordmaster and friend, and that of his brother, with whom he had developed a close relationship. The rage threatened to well up out of control on several occasions. Finally, Aaron controlled his emotions and the cold, calculating demeanor returned. Death would be Aaron's partner now and Doom be on the heads of all involved. He wanted answers and he knew where to go to get them. He had Black Rose teleport him to the bridge in front of the gates of Castle Daemongurd.
One of the things that Aaron had learned and also had taken to heart was the gathering of information balanced against retribution. While retribution would always be the end result, information was difficult to gather from the dead. Master Wheatstone, and Lady Thalia, were recent examples were Aaron's desire for retribution thwarted his intelligence gathering. He had learned from the mistakes of the past. Ultimately, there would always be retribution, but he knew accurate and complete intelligence was just as important.
Aaron began drawing power and then banged on the gate, releasing Eldritch and causing the gates to reverberate with the force of the energy. He stood back and waited. Presently the gates swung inward opening, Aaron drew his swords and waited. The portcullis was up and Prince Velen was standing on the other side of the tunnel sword drawn and pointing down at his side.
"Prince Whiterune?" Prince Velen called out. "Is there something you want?"
"Answers, Prince Velen," Aaron called back. "I want answers."
"What are the questions, Milord?" Prince Velen asked.
"Did you attack the manor house in Realto?" Aaron asked drawing more of his power. "Did you kill the very people that I told you were important to me?"
"No, Milord, I did not," Prince Velen replied. "I told you I would not, and my word is my bond."
Aaron felt Prince Velen begin to draw power and reached out and stopped him, and drained him of his power. Prince Velen looked at Aaron in surprise and shock.
"How did you do that?" Prince Velen asked, concern, and perhaps a little fear, etched on his face. "That should not be possible."
"I have a unique ability," Aaron shrugged. "I want to know why I sensed a Thangdaemon in Realto?"
"Milord, I did not kill the humans that you speak of," Prince Velen sheathed his sword. "Tell me why you think so."
"Because Eldritch was used," Aaron explained, "Thangdaemon Eldritch and you are the only known Thangdaemon left. Why did you return?"
"You are wrong, Milord," Prince Velen shook his head. "I am not the only Thangdaemon Adept left. Please, come inside and we will talk."
Prince Velen turned and walked toward the keep, whose doors were standing open. If this was some type of trick, or if Velen was leading him into a trap, Aaron swore to himself that Velen would die first and die slowly, in agony.
Aaron followed him at a cautionary distance and watched Prince Velen enter the keep. Aaron also entered the keep and saw that a table had been setup in a side alcove and Prince Velen was sitting in a chair.
"Please, Prince Whiterune, sit down," Prince Velen waved at a chair.
"I am not a prince, or lord," Aaron sat down. "It is just Aaron."
"Alright, Aaron, as I said, I am not the only Thangdaemon Lord," Prince Velen stated. "I did not return, I was summoned, and it did not go the way the summoner had intended, but never the less, I am here. Since we are being informal it is Velen."
"Velen, who summoned you and who is the other Thangdaemon Lord?" Aaron asked.
"They are one in the same," Velen replied. "Lord Devlin summoned me. He is the one you should be angry with. He also is the one that raised the knights that were with me yesterday."
"I know who Lord Devlin is, but I did not realize he was an Adept as you put it. I thought he was just a powerful Necromancer," Aaron replied. "What am I to him, or what is Realto to him?"
"Lord Devlin was Chamberlain to my father, while he lived," Velen replied. "He championed the plan that would not only stop the war but achieve ascension in the process. Thangdaemon Adepts are normally called Necromancers, but now always. As for what you are to him; you are a thorn in his side. Realto was most assuredly payback."
"For what?" Aaron asked perplexed.
"For many reasons," Velen spread his hands. "You were indirectly responsible for him being cast out of the Ethereal Plane. You have disrupted his plans here as well."
"I was the reason he was cast out?" Aaron asked, clearly confused. "I thought he was cast out because of a power struggle."
"Yes, he was," Velen replied. "He was cast out because he allowed the God Thief to meddle in political affairs on the Material Plane, although he was probably behind that as well. When he was confronted he tried to attack his accuser."
"Where is he?" Aaron asked.
"Are you intending on confronting him?" Velen asked. "He is very powerful."
"So am I, or did you forget that already?" Aaron replied. "Where is he?"
"He has a tower directly north of here, beyond the mountains," Velen replied. "He has nine Thangdaemon Knights that do his bidding. That is a formidable force directed against you. Perhaps I can be of assistance there."
"How?" Aaron asked. "And why would you?"
"I told you, I do not wish us to be enemies," Velen replied. "Your ancestor, Sinthar, and I were close friends. We are almost related, Sinthar was betrothed to my sister."
"Rannath is your sister?" Aaron asked.
"How do you know her name?" Velen asked.
"She was my patron," Aaron replied, "but not any longer. She is the Goddess of Light, and I am anything but, of the light."
"Well, that is interesting," Velen smiled. "Goddess of Light, you say? Interesting. Anyway, I wish to help with the knights, but it will take a day or two."
"Were you aware that she betrayed my ancestor?" Aaron asked, watching his reaction. "That her actions delivered Sinthar to his enemies, powerless?"
"No, I did not," Velen replied with anger. "That bit of information was hidden from me. That makes me want to help you all the more."
"That is fine, I will take any advantage," Aaron nodded. "I have other unfinished business that I can see to. How will I know when you are ready?"
"Return here in two days," Velen replied. "I will be ready by then."
"Two days then," Aaron confirmed and stood.
"One other thing," Velen reached out his hand, "Lord Devlin has the 'Staff of Power', and you will need to account for that."
"That will not be a problem," Aaron smiled his feral grin. "I will see you in two days."
Aaron turned and left the keep, releasing the block on Velen's power. He left the castle and had Black Rose apportate him to Anastasia's residence. Upon arriving outside the home, Aaron knocked and waited.
Rac-Nur opened the door and smiled at his liege as he welcomed him back. Tanith was waiting for him in the study so he went there first. He talked with her for several hours about his plans concerning Lord Devlin, and explained about Prince Velen. He explained his feelings about having responsibilities for people other than himself. She wanted to go with him, but he finally talked her out of it. The ladies would need someone to keep an eye on them. He was pretty sure that Lady Laura would want to go home, and he still figured to move House De la Rose to Malkur, but have Anastasia run it completely. Rac-Nur would be staying with Anastasia and help her as needed.