The Shadow of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
Prince Velen actually spent the day which he had requested for preparation searching the upper rooms of the keep. There were things he was looking for, not the least of which was the royal ring of Thangdaemon. With it he could control the knights that Devlin had raised. Without it he probably still could, but it would be more difficult, much more difficult.
The location of the ring was a question he would have liked to ask Devlin, but Velen did not want to tip his hand, to the point that he did not ask Rannath either. He figured that Devlin did not have it, or he would have seen it on the Necromancer's finger, and likewise with Rannath. No, the ring was not being wielded, which meant it must be here, probably still with his father, since Velen, the heir, was already dead at the time of his father's death.
Velen had an idea and went to the small chapel off the main hallway on the second floor. The chapel was the private sanctuary for the Thangdaemon Kings and also contained a secret room that held a transportation platform. The secret room was not his destination, however. Rather, the chapel itself was. His father's tomb was not there though, but a small urn and box rested on an obsidian altar in a small alcove, lit by candles. In front of the altar was a small kneeling bench and that was Velen's destination.
Kneeling at the bench, Velen spent several moments in prayer and silent supplication. Feeling refreshed, he rose and reverently approached the altar and opened the small box revealing a white metal ring set with a large red gem. Within the gem an intricate rune glowed and pulsed with power. The ring was similar in design and function to the ring Aaron wore on his left ring finger. Velen removed the ring on his left hand ring finger and placed it on the altar next to the urn. He then removed the ring from the box and slipped it on the same finger. The ring fit perfectly and Velen could feel the power, which supplemented his own. With this ring no Thangdaemon could refuse him, well, no Thangdaemon without the added might of Eldritch.
Now that he had the ring there were other things also available to him. Moving to the opposite side of the room, He moved a painting revealing a small depression in the wall. Rotating the ring around, he pressed the palm of his hand on the wall with the gem in the depression. A section of the wall slid in and to the left revealing a secret room.
Velen entered the room which contained his father's armor, which consisted of black adamantine chain mail, enchanted leather jerkin, and enchanted bracers. Next to the armor was the royal Sceptre of Thangdaemon.
The sceptre was roughly two feet long with a spiked end and a large blood red gem on top. It was fashioned out of a silver metal; not silver, or mithril, but a denser metal, inscribed with various runes. The sceptre was a powerful relic that channeled Eldritch, a very useful tool. With the ring and sceptre, Velen's power increased dramatically. Now he was prepared for the upcoming battle.
Aaron spent the rest of the evening with Tanith going over the plan for the next day. Tanith had an idea of how to keep everyone that was staying in the house safe and she presented it to him. Satisfied that everything he could control he would be able to, he and Tanith retired for the night. After getting ready for bed, Aaron sat on the edge of the bed and watched Tanith begin to get ready, as well. Watching her remove her bustier and leather pants, brought feelings of arousal to Aaron and when he touched his mate he found her of the same mind. They made love quickly and quietly as they were both feeling apprehensive about the coming day. Afterwards, they settled into a comforting sleep with their limbs entwined.
Aaron awoke just as the rays of the sun reached the tops of the walls of the high city. Tanith was already dressed in her full battle dress of padded leather bustier, leather pants bloused into supple doeskin knee-high boots, rapier belted to her left hip, and matching dagger at her right. Aaron dressed quickly, checking his own weapons. They then left their room heading for the dining room and something to break their fast.
The cook had been up early as well and was serving hot cereal with honey and roasted spiced meats. Warm bread and a brewed herbal tea completed the meal. When they had arrived the room was empty, but by the time they had finished, the entire house was up and at breakfast.
Rac-Nur tried unsuccessfully to convince his master that he should accompany them when they left. Aaron explained that his one fear was that something should befall Anastasia or Laura while he was gone and only Rac-Nur staying and protecting the women gave him peace of mind and allowed him to concentrate on the task at hand. Rac-Nur accepted his master's explanation and orders, and vowed to protect the ladies with his life. Tanith explained her plan for protecting the household and that they would have to remain inside until she returned. After ensuring there were no other questions or comments Aaron gave each of the ladies a hug and clasped Rac-Nur on the shoulder before he and Tanith turned and left.
Outside of the home Tanith performed the rite of binding. Silver Eldritch flowed from her hands to the door spreading out and encircling the entire building. Now, only a Wyrm could enter or remove the bonds. Nodding at Aaron she stepped back and he had Black Rose transport them to the Castle Daemongurd.
The main training camp of the Black Hand was abuzz with the news that they had been infiltrated over night. Almost fifteen of their instructors and four masters were found dead in their beds, throats slit. More alarming was that some of the dead were found by the other person occupying the room, who had not been disturbed during the bloody night. All had their throats slit, from ear to ear, and all were holding roses, as if they were arranged for a viewing by an undertaker.
The guards were questioned and none reported seeing intruders, and they used the plural of intruder, assuming, wrongly, that the nighttime raid had been the work of several men. The guards were then summarily executed for dereliction of duty.
The leadership traced the entry point by the trail of dead bodies through the tunnel to the shop in Creton. They had the access from within the shop in Creton blocked, and the tunnel filled in by magical means. There were other accesses to the isolated canyon that could and would be used from then on.
The defacement of the map within the headquarters was not revealed to the members or the trainees, but the leadership was concerned. Their inner sanctum had been violated, and now their various safe havens and hidden locations were identified to forces unknown. How could a force make it through the camp while nobody heard or saw anything?
The leadership decided to immediately begin an investigation into the meaning of the black rose, and to tighten security measures drastically. There was an information blackout; the Black Hand did not want it revealed that they were vulnerable, vulnerable within their very stronghold. The Black Hand needed to find the intruders and deal with them harshly!
Aaron and Tanith arrived on the arched bridge and entered the open gates, and found Velen waiting on the steps of the keep. Velen was dressed in a leather padded jerkin, leather pants, sword belted at his side and holding a silver rod in the crook of his left arm.
"Aaron, Milady, good morrow," Velen smiled acknowledging them.
"Velen," Aaron nodded. "Did you find a way to wrest control of the knights away from Devlin?"
"Yes," he replied. "This is my plan..."
They spent a few moments going over how Velen would prevent the knights from interfering. Velen also described the location well enough that Tanith could transport them there without any difficulties. Velen would not be traveling with them, he intended to follow and then claim authority over the knights. Aaron's plan was simple: strip Devlin of his power and then kill him. He tried one more time to dissuade Tanith from accompanying him.
"Tanith my love, I would rather that you not accompany me into this battle," Aaron tried to explain. "I can face Devlin alone. I do not want to take the chance that you would be hurt, or Gods forbid killed, if the battle spills over."
"I swore an oath to be with you always," Tanith countered. "You cannot release me from that oath, and I refuse not to honor it! We are bound in ways that transcend even death. I intend to be standing by your side, no matter what transpires. We can overcome whatever we face as long as we are together."
Aaron stopped pacing around and came up to face her. Her features were set in a look of defiance and her eyes were ablaze with emotion. He put his hands on her shoulders and moved in to kiss her passionately. "Then that is the way it will be, beloved. Together we will be, forever."
"Velen, are you ready?" Aaron asked, turning to face him.
"Yes," he replied. "I will take care of my part."
"Tanith, shall we?" Aaron held her hands.
She leaned forward and gave him a kiss in reply. Aaron had Black Rose transport him and Tanith to the Black Tower. Velen waited several moments and followed.
"Milady? Milady, we have found the WitchLord," a Godling reported. "He has just appeared at the Black Tower."
"What?" Rannath replied fading into view. "He is where?"
"The Black Tower, Milady," the Godling replied.
"Are you sure?" Rannath asked, already dreading the answer.
"Yes, Milady, it has been confirmed," the Godling reported. "He has just attacked Lord Devlin. Wait! Prince Velen has just appeared there as well."
"Brethren, there are unsettling events transpiring on the Material Plane," Rannath spoke to the Ethereal. "I request a council."
Gods and Goddesses began to fade in to view and gave Rannath their attention.
"Lords and Ladies," Rannath began, "troubling events are spiraling out of control on the Material Plane; events that could have long term ramifications. As much as I loathe to say it, we must come to the aid of our fallen brethren. Lord Devlin is in trouble and we must render assistance if he asks."
"Lady Rannath, are you sure?" Lord Azrael asked. "It is trouble of his own making, and do not forget who he is in trouble with."
"Who?" Lord Gawain, God of War, asked. "And why is it our concern? Devlin was banished from this august body."
"The WitchLord, Lord Gawain," Lord Azrael answered and then turned back to Rannath. "Devlin has made his bed, I say let him lie in it."
"As much as it pains me to say," Lord Malak smiled. "I have to agree with Lord Azrael, this trouble is all of Devlin's doing."
"He is still our brother," Lady Rannath countered. "We must render aid."
"I have to agree," Lady Melody, Goddess of Music, entered the discussion. "He is still one of us after all, even though Lord Azrael is correct that it is of his own doing. But we also share in these events; we should have interfered earlier and perhaps prevented most of this."
The discussion went on for some time and eventually it was decided to render aid, so they gathered their power and shifted to the Material Plane and transported to the location of the Black Tower.
Because of Lord Devlin's arrogance, he was not as protected as he should have been. The vale had no additional protections or wards set, nor any traps or delaying devices installed. Lord Devlin counted on his skill and power as a Thangdaemon Necromancer to overcome any obstacle in his path. In most cases that skill and power could defeat most Adepts and would normally win the day, unfortunately this was not a normal day and Aaron was not most Adepts. Lord Devlin would have scant chance to rue his overconfidence.
Aaron and Tanith arrived in the vale, in front of the tower. Aaron released a ball of silver energy at the tower door, causing it to explode sending shards of wood everywhere.
"Lord Devlin," Aaron called out. "Come out and account for your actions. I demand satisfaction."
They could hear the laughter as Lord Devlin stepped around the shards of the broken door and left the tower. "You, demand satisfaction from me?"
"Well, upstart, here I am," Lord Devlin declared. "Knights, we have company, where are your manners?"
Nine mailed knights streamed out of the door of the building to the left of the tower and formed up in a concave semi-circle facing Aaron and Tanith. Tanith pivoted to face the knights and began to store power in preparation for the upcoming fight. Aaron kept his attention on Devlin. Either Velen would arrive and do what he intended, or Tanith would have to deal with the knights. Either way they were not his concern. Aaron wanted Devlin.
Aaron drew Red Rose as protection against wards and runes of power. The sword howled in anger, runes blood red, pulsing with power, as silver flames flickered up and down the blade. Aaron attacked Devlin with a silver ball of energy, which the Necromancer batted away with his hand as he began to draw power in preparation for his own attack.
"You will not be needing that," Aaron smiled a feral grin as he blocked Devlin's access to power and begun to siphon off what he was already holding. Aaron then wove a barrier around Devlin preventing him from accessing Eldritch. Devlin looked at him in surprise and even a slight tinge of fear and then prepared a different attack.
Lord Devlin shot a blast of Eldritch through the Staff of Power, which Aaron batted aside with Red Rose. Aaron then began to draw more power. A quick glance toward Tanith reassured him that she was holding her own by keeping the knights immobilized. Turning back to Devlin, who began to weave his staff and started muttering words, Aaron realized he needed to defuse the power of the staff or block it somehow, thereby eliminating all of Devlin's power.
When the knights came out of their barracks Tanith turned and began weaving her hands as she pronounced the rune of holding; Damna. The knights froze in place, but Tanith saw their rings glow red and realized that the rune might not hold them long. She added Eldritch to the rune strengthening it.
"Velen better show up soon," Tanith thought. "Otherwise I will take matters into my own hand and there will be no more knights!"
Aaron was still holding Red Rose in his left hand so he extended both hands out and somewhat together palms displayed outward. The air between his two hands began to swirl with power as a ball of silver energy formed and a beam of Eldritch shot out of the ball straight at Devlin.
Devlin put his hands up and out as if trying to protect himself from an attack, which he was, and pronounced the rune of protection: El. The beam of silver Eldritch hit the shield of red Eldritch from the staff as Devlin strained forward trying to keep his balance. Aaron continued to pump power into his attack drawing power from everywhere, his eyes glowing silver as his body began to glow as well.
Devlin leaned forward as the onslaught continued, his shield now ragged around the edges as the point of attack began to glow brighter and brighter. Without his own ability to access power it would not be much longer before Devlin's shield would fail and with it Lord Devlin himself. Devlin saw Prince Velen appear and thought his salvation was at hand and called out to him.
"Prince Velen, I need your aid," Devlin declared, the strain evident in his voice.
"What makes you think I am here to aid you, Lord Devlin?" Prince Velen chuckled evilly, nodded to Aaron and then walked over to where Tanith was standing.
"My Lady, I can take over from here," Velen smiled.
Tanith tipped her head, removed the rune of holding, and stepped aside.
"Knights, kneel before your prince," Velen commanded, holding his left hand out, palm down. In his right hand he held the Thangdaemon sceptre; the Rod of Rulership. The gem in the ring on Velen's finger glowed brightly as the knights, knelt as one, paying homage to their prince.
"This is not your fight. Withdraw!" Prince Velen commanded. "Gather your things and your horses. We are leaving."
Again as one, the knights banged their chests with their fists, rose, turned and entered the barracks, following their prince's orders.
"Good day, My Lady," Prince Velen brought his right fist to his left breast, saluting Tanith. "I do not believe Aaron will require any further assistance from me."
The knights returned with their horses and Prince Velen apportated them all back to Castle Daemongurd. Tanith shook her head and turned to aid her mate.
Aaron was not even exerting himself as Eldritch flowed through him and then out, focused through his hands. The same could not be said for Lord Devlin who was straining to keep the attack at bay, his shield failing more and more with each passing moment. Devlin dropped to one knee, still holding the staff trying to maintain his shield, as Aaron's powerful beam inched closer and closer, warping the shield inward toward Devlin.
"Black Rose, in a moment you may take his soul," Aaron spoke to his sword. "Just as soon as I take all of his power away."
"Yes, My Lord," the sword replied almost gleefully.
Across from Aaron's right and next to Lord Devlin a host of Gods appeared arranged in a triangle, each holding a staff of blonde wood. Rannath was at the point of the triangle, facing Aaron. Lord Azrael was conspicuously absent and noted as such by Aaron.
"My brethren, I need your help," Lord Devlin called out. "I declare sanctuary."
"Aaron, it is enough," Rannath commanded. "You have defeated him."
"Not even close, My Lady," Aaron responded. "Do not interfere, this does not concern you."
"Aaron, yes it does," Rannath replied. "Lord Devlin has declared sanctuary, you must stop. We will take it from here."
"Where were you when he slew my family?" Aaron asked, trying to split his concentration between Devlin and now the host of Gods. "I say no quarter! It will be over when my sword feasts on his soul! Stand aside, Rannath!"
The Gods attacked, focusing their power through Rannath at the point of their formation. A beam of white Eldritch struck Aaron knocking him backward onto the ground and more importantly disrupting his concentration. The fact that Aaron was holding as much power as he was acted like a shield and prevented the attack from causing more damage than just knocking him to the ground, dazed. The attack on Devlin stopped and he slumped forward holding his staff for support.
Rannath looked at Aaron in horror; her attack should not have caused that. She only wanted to disrupt his attack on Devlin. Someone had manipulated the attack for their own gain. She did not have more time to ponder what happened because the woman next to Aaron's prone body screamed and attacked with Eldritch.
Tanith screamed and struck with numerous balls of energy, firing one right after another. Rannath barely turned the attack aside; aided by the power she was receiving from the other Gods. Tanith followed up with twin beams of energy from the palms of her hands, directed straight at the focal point of the God's formation: Lady Rannath. The gods fought back her attack and then shifted their attack at Tanith who screamed in rage and fought off the counter-attack as she grew to her full height and shape.
"By the Three, she is a first-born!" Rannath exclaimed. "A Wyrm!"
Tanith unfurled her wings for balance and spewed acid at the Gods, followed up by Wyrm fire, enveloping them in both acid and flames. Rannath had a split second to turn her attack into defense and covered the host in an Eldritch shield, protecting them from the Wyrm's dual attack. Even as the Wyrm was breathing fire, her arms were gesturing, weaving the rune of binding.
Aaron was stunned and lay disoriented on his back as Devlin made it to his feet and smiled as he approached his enemy. With the disruption of Aaron's attack, the block on Devlin's ability to access Eldritch was removed and he began to store power in preparation for the kill. He walked slowly over to Aaron and raised the Staff of Power in a strike position and was about to bring it down on Aaron's head when he was suddenly knocked back by a beam of emerald green Eldritch!
Although Prince Velen had withdrawn from the battle taking the knights with him, he was still curious about the outcome. He did not want Devlin to win the day, so he decided to observe the battle from the relative safety of his castle.
"The battle is going well," Devlin chuckled to himself as he watched with great interest Aaron's attack. It never hurt to know the strengths and weaknesses of potential adversaries or even allies.
Velen was a little alarmed when the Godly host showed up and tried to intervene.
"Oh, so now they intervene," Velen spat. "How very typical of my sister and her ilk. Well, I shall fix that and put even more distance in her relationship with the WitchLord."
Prince Velen concentrated and added a little extra something to the Godly attack.
"By the Three, that was too much," Velen looked on worried. "I did not mean to knock him down. By the Three, Devlin is going to defeat him! Wait, what is this? Help from an unlikely source. So, an Elfen Witch, I will need to keep an eye on her."
Mara watched with interest the events developing at the Black Tower. She would have her revenge without having to involve herself. The Thangdaemon cur responsible for her imprisonment would receive his just deserts this day. Wait, what is this? Why were they aiding the cur? Not fair, not fair!