The Prince of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
Lady Diana Brightstar lived alone. Well, alone save for her two wolfhounds, Artemis and Orion. Not to say that she did not have servants, for she did: a cook and a maid, both female. In fact, the only male she knew or even tolerated was Orion, and he was neutered. It was not the fact that she was unattractive because she was not; she just had no time for anyone else. She was tall, close to six feet, with long brown hair and eyes the color of emeralds. She did not have the temperament to take care of a man, to provide for all of his needs. No, her one true love was the hunt.
It did not matter the prey; it was the out-dueling of the game that mattered. This hunt could potentially be better than any she had ever been on. This prey had the potential to be the hardest she had ever faced, and she was almost giddy with the thought of it. But, first things first, she needed intelligence, she needed to know the lay of the land.
Diana searched through her maps until she located the one she wanted. She then spent several hours going over it, checking and re-checking until she knew the area like the woods around her manor. After finishing her preparation she turned in for the night, confident that tomorrow would start a most exciting adventure.
Tanith had the last watch and woke the others at dawn. After a quick meal and camp clean-up they were back on the road moving ever easterly. They avoided towns when they could and traveled right on through when they could not. They ate their noon meal in the saddle, only stopping now and then to walk the horses. By the end of the day after the altercation at the inn, they had made camp some eight leagues away.
Following the same procedure, they made a small fire and took turns at watch. They determined, based on Dana's knowledge of the land, that they should make the great marsh by mid-to-late afternoon the following day. They planned to camp on the edge of the marsh and not enter the swamplands until the following morning. Aaron took the first watch, confident that they would spend the night unmolested. He had every right to feel that way, for he had thirteen warriors guarding their camp. Thirteen warriors who required no sleep.
Lady Diana was up before dawn and dressed for the hunt in forest green trousers and a brown tunic trimmed with wolf's fur. A shortsword was belted to her left hip and a long dagger at her right, a quiver of arrows strapped across her back and her bow by her side. She had finished packing and was just finishing breakfast when there was a knock at her front door. Opening the front door she was surprised to see Sister Kalliste standing there in her traveling cloak. Looking over Sister Kalliste's shoulder Lady Diana could see four additional priestesses standing in her front yard.
"Lady Diana, the Most Blessed Mother thought that we might be of assistance getting you to your immediate destination," Sister Kalliste said smiling. "She also wanted me to accompany you as the temple's representative,"
"I normally hunt alone," Lady Diana replied eyes narrowing. "I do not like surprises."
"It was not my intent to surprise you, but nevertheless, the Most Blessed Mother insists," she explained. "If you are ready we can transport you to LaRoche."
"My horses and dogs as well?"
"Yes, whatever equipment you need."
Diana saddled her horse and led it and the pack horse out of the stables and whistled for her dogs. After ensuring that she had all she wanted she nodded to Sister Kalliste, who stood at the ready holding the reins of her own mount. The sisters formed a circle around Lady Diana and Sister Kalliste and began chanting as they drew power for the transportation spell. The two travelers began to shimmer and then vanished.
The huntress and the priestess appeared off the side of the road west of the town of LaRoche. They mounted their horses and started off for the town. Upon entering the town they made straight away for the temple. When they arrived they dismounted and entered, looking for someone in charge. Finally finding an acolyte, Sister Kalliste identified herself and then interrogated her about the events from the previous evening. The acolyte's report made her cringe and she turned to Lady Diana for assistance, who ordered the acolyte to bring them to where the bodies were being held.
The hunting party was led to a small anteroom where the temple's priestess was lying in repose. The huntress inspected the priestess' body and was perplexed when she saw the death wound. The hole went clear through the body and was perfectly cylindrical at both the entry and exit. The ribs were melted back, the spinal column was burned through, and no organs remained within the wound site. Nothing remained within the wound site! She had seen nothing like that before, and Sister Kalliste was at a loss as well. The wounds to the members of the Sisterhood were more in common with a sword fight, but even their wounds were sharp and surgical. One would expect tearing and bruising at the entrance points, but these wounds were as if made with a razor. Lady Diana asked to see the site of the battle and the acolyte directed them to the inn.
When Diana and Kalliste arrived at the inn they found it closed for repairs. Diana pulled her sword and banged on the door with the its pommel. The door opened a crack and the innkeeper stuck her head out.
"We are closed," she announced and then tried to shut the door, which Diana prevented and then pushed open.
"You will open for us," she growled, echoed by the growls of her dogs. "We wish to see where the fight took place."
"Well, it was not much of a fight," the innkeeper opened the door to admit them. "It was more like a massacre. The Sisterhood really stood no chance."
The hunting party, followed by the dogs, entered the common room, where the clean-up was underway. Diana looked around at the clean-up which was destroying any evidence they might find and shook her head at Kalliste.
"Leave everything as it is!" Sister Kalliste commanded with authority. "By order of the High-Priestess of the Eternal Flame!"
The slaveys scurried back to the kitchen and after several protests the innkeeper followed. With the room clear of workers Diana began to investigate the scene, looking for any clues to the combatants. Kalliste was doing her own form of investigation and what she found troubled her greatly.
The residue of Eldritch hung heavy in the air, almost palpable to an Adept trained in the art of divination as Sister Kalliste was. Eldritch had been used here and recently! She could identify several different sources, eight or so to be exact, some she knew but others she did not. That fact actually caused her some trepidation, since she was trained in the recognition of all the known forms of Eldritch, even the ones no longer practiced; or so she thought.
Different forms of Eldritch left different traces. Not only could an Adept trained in divination identify the type but she also could discern things about the user. A properly trained Adept could discern not only the race of the user but under certain circumstances even the type. For example, one could determine not only a Tarran, but whether the Tarran was a Witch or Priestess for that matter. Sister Kalliste was highly trained and had some natural talent as well.
Kalliste sensed three traces that she knew of for sure, all Tarran: one a Priestess, one a Sister, and the other a Witch. The Witch trace was interesting; it was familiar somehow. She would have to return to that one later.
Then there was a trace from an ancient form of Eldritch, type unknown. Definitely not Tarran, or any of the other known eldritch manifestations. It was pure and its residue was more intact, more concentrated as compared to the Tarran traces for sure. It did not fade as quickly as the other three. It hung heavy in the air almost as if it could be tapped and used again.
And then there was the trace that she had no idea how to classify. It was strong, stronger than all of the other traces combined, and also of a type unknown. Unknown, and yet different from the other unknown trace, it was also purer than the others. It also hung heavy in the air like it could be absorbed again. Actually, the other traces were being absorbed by this one, as if it were overpowering all other types; almost as if it was a virus, attacking the other traces. There were actually two other traces that were similar to the strong one. Similar, but not quite, she could not put her finger on how they were different but they were. Then it dawned on her, they were not trying to absorb the others; that was the difference.
The last trace that she sensed was also confusing. It was definitely Tarran, but of an unknown type. She re-thought that; no, not unknown, it was from an Adept, a male Adept, but older and more intense than she was used to. It was faint and there were several of this type, as if multiple users. Before she could try and classify it better the residue faded and was gone. Her musings were interrupted by Lady Diana.
"There were two separate battles here," Diana looked around. "The first, over here involved one assailant and four victims. This must be the initial confrontation when the lone attacker killed the four Sisters."
"Over there was where the second battle happened," Diana pointed. "Look at the wall there, there, and there. That scorch mark in the center is the end result of whatever burned through the priestess and the two puncture marks are where the two sisters were pinned to the wall."
"Whoever killed the two priestesses was strong, very strong," she explained. "Whatever pierced their bodies was driven into the wall several inches. Also the bodies were lifted about six inches off of the ground. Remarkable feat if you think about it."
"So, who was the attacker?" Kalliste asked. "Let me rephrase that, what was the attacker?"
"I do not know that," Diana replied. "There is insufficient information to formulate any conclusions. Let me continue."
"The other sisters died in combat here, and here," Diana pointed to two spots on the floor. "It looks like two separate antagonists were involved. So, a total of three assailants killed a priestess and ten sisters all told. Remarkable, truly remarkable."
"Remarkable?" Kalliste spat in disgust and waved her hands around. "You sound as if you admired this."
"Well, from a strictly professional level, it is remarkable," she shrugged, finishing her explanation. "I am done here, there is nothing further to be gleaned. We will need to interview the innkeeper, however."
They both had questions for the innkeeper who admitted to seeing both fights and confirmed everything they already knew. She did tell them that they left by horse and that the horses had been in the stable. Diana was extremely interested and after confirming that no other horses had been in the stables hurried there to find their tracks. Kalliste was just about to join her when the innkeeper gently touched her arm, holding her back.
"There is something else," the innkeeper's eyes gleamed. "The male's swords flew from his hands and stuck those Sisters to the wall. He did not throw them."
"A male attacked the Sisters?" Kalliste asked incrediously.
"Yes, and like I said, his swords flew from his hands," the innkeeper reiterated herself.
"What do you mean they flew?" Kalliste's face drained of color.
"They flew on their own," the innkeeper replied. "Took off out of his hands point first and stuck those sisters like spears."
"Could you see the swords?" Kalliste asked, hoping against hope that the answer was no, but it was not.
"How could you not, the writing on the swords glowed," the innkeeper replied.
"What?" Kalliste squeaked.
"The longer sword had writings on it that glowed black and the shorter one had some that glowed red," the innkeeper nodded. "Something else too."
"What else?" Kalliste was worried now, really worried.
"He called himself a WitchLord," the innkeeper whispered. "I have never heard of that term before."
"Neither have I," Kalliste lied. "Is that everything?"
The innkeeper thought for a moment and decided to hold back on the most important bit of information for possible payment. She had hoped that perhaps she would receive sufficient funds to repair her inn.
"I was hoping the information would be valuable to the Most Blessed Mother," she smiled.
"Oh, it was, it was," Kalliste nodded and looked around. "Here is your payment," she then placed her hands on the innkeeper's shoulders. "Himith."
The innkeeper burst into flames and was reduced to a pile of grey ash. Sister Kalliste did not know it, but she had just acted rashly, and she might come to regret her rashness.
"Very valuable," Kalliste turned and left the inn, looking for Lady Diana.
Lady Diana left the inn and headed for the stables in the back, carefully looking for tracks in and around the area. She found hoof prints of an unusual nature. She inspected them carefully and saw that they were of a style unknown to her, certainly not from any farrier of Tarran skill.