The Prince of the Rose
Chapter 13

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

Aaron and his party were up at dawn and started the day with exercise and more practice, before finally agreeing that Aaron was just as deadly and possibly more so with one sword than he previously was with two. Aaron was surprised to note that he did not feel a 'little off' just wielding a single blade.

He remembered with a certain sadness his old SwordMaster, Caleb and how he had remarked on more than one occasion, when initially training Aaron, that he thought Aaron was missing something, that his forms were a 'little off'. And how after he had returned with Red Rose Caleb felt that the shortsword was the missing ingredient. Maybe, he was only supposed to carry the shortsword for a little while and Red Rose was waiting for Kalliste, or maybe even Red Rose did not know. It did seem that every step he took closer to the Rose Throne had uncovered some deeper plot. As if his whole life had been orchestrated toward this one great event. From meeting Tanith, seemingly by chance or fate, to crossing paths with Dana and how the simple loyalty spell had become something so much more, and finally, to meeting Kalliste and how he had let her live when he ended Diana's life. Everything seemed to fall into some type of preordained order toward some ultimate goal. He was not sure but maybe it was his destiny to restore the Rose Empire, as Dao had remarked. Truth be told he never believed in fate, destiny, or whatever name weaker souls used to justify not having control over their own life. No, he was satisfied with making his own way in all things and the Gods be damned if they did not like it.

Well, self-reflection time was over and now it was time to act. After confirming the exact hour on Tarra with Black Rose, Aaron declared himself ready to go.

The women followed Aaron out of the temple and back to the transportation platform in the clearing. Aaron questioned Dana and Kalliste about the possible location of the platform in the palace, but neither knew the location. Before ascending the platform Aaron removed the chain around his neck that held the ring his sister had worn.

"Dana, I want you to have this," Aaron held out the ring. "My sister gave it to me and I am passing it down to you."

"Aaron, that is the Queen's ring," Kalliste inhaled in shock. "It was missing from Queen Cassandra when she passed away. When Ariel ascended the throne, a new ring had to be fashioned for it is also the seal of the throne. Some believed that your sister took and hid it. Apparently they were correct."

Dana took the ring with trembling fingers and gently slid it home on the ring finger of her left hand. She looked up at Aaron with a huge grin and threw herself in his arms and kissed him for several moments. She stepped back, gasped, and turned around looking at Tanith questioningly. Tanith just smiled and held out her arms, where upon Dana stepped into them and the two shared a deep, meaningful hug.

Aaron knew that if anything bad should befall him that Dana could command the Rose Throne with that ring and become Queen of Tarra. He had just assured that his ultimate desire to restore the empire to its former glory and alleviate the plight of Tarran males would succeed.

Aaron kissed his mates goodbye then hugged Kalliste and extracted her promise to practice until he returned. He stepped up onto the platform and set the controls to take him to the palace of Cumbra on Tarra, blew a kiss to everyone, pulled up his hood and touched the ruby in the lower right hand corner of the table top.

The air hummed and crackled with the energy of the platform as a small white light appeared, growing in size until it engulfed Aaron in its brightness. Right before the ball of light shrank upon itself and vanished the three that stayed behind would later swear that they saw a blue tendril of light appear next to Aaron. They would each agree that they felt better about Aaron's mission knowing that he had the protection of some of the Black Guard. He might just need it.

After seeing Aaron off, the three decided to stay in the clearing and spend time in sword practice, polishing Kalliste's sword forms. They were not worried about intruders since not only was the clearing guarded by those members of the Black Guard who did not accompany Aaron, but it was also being watched over by the old stag and several harts. There was probably no place more secure in the known Mythos.

Dana called a halt to the practice after an hour, claiming fatigue, and returned to the relative comfort of the temple. Tanith encouraged Kalliste to keep at it and then went in search of her sister-mate, finding her resting in the throne room.

"Are you alright?" Tanith asked, looking at Dana critically.

"Yes, just a little winded, nothing more," Dana replied with a smile.

"Are you sure?" Tanith cocked her head.

"Tanith, if I were to tell you something would you promise not to say anything until after I tell Aaron?" Dana asked with a pleading look on her face.

"Of course. You should know that without asking," Tanith sat down beside her and held her hands. "We have to stick together, you and I."

"I am with child," Dana gushed. "I missed my start, but was not sure until recently. If Aaron finds out he will not let me come with all of you when he interrupts the coronation."

"I have a confession to make," Tanith smiled. "I will also be a mother. Wyrms do not carry their young to term like your race does. When we spent the night in my lair, I clutched two eggs. They are safe and I will check on them after the coronation. So you see it is not just you that worry about being left behind."

"We will tell him together, after the coronation," Dana smiled and nodded. "I fear he will need us in this upcoming struggle."

"Yes," Tanith sighed. "I quite agree. Now, rest while I check on Kalliste."

Tanith kissed Dana on the forehead and left to assist Kalliste in her practice.

The palace at Cumbra, first-city of Tarra.

Sister Calliope finished her investigation without any resolution. Her assassins were simply missing, gone without a trace. She had tracked them into the great marsh but after that the trail grew faint and then simply vanished. She had no choice but to return to Cumbra and wait.

Her return trip to Cumbra was much faster, due in no small part to the traveling priestess she met at the small inn on the edge of the marsh. The priestess was happy to be of help and teleported her to the barracks of the Sisterhood at the Temple of the Eternal Flame in Cumbra. She arrived there late in the evening and retired to her small quarters for the night. She returned to her mundane duties within the Sisterhood the next morning, all a clever subterfuge to keep her true duties hidden. Only the Most Blessed Mother knew what her true duties were.

Calliope's responsibilities included the upkeep of the barracks and the feeding and sheltering of the sisters when they were abroad. To that end she was allocated a small staff of acolytes and oversaw the entire process. Her cover allowed for periods of absence since she could chalk them up to investigating various lodging facilities within the kingdom and abroad. She spent an uneventful day catching up with the minutia that had piled up while she was away. She knew that at some point she would have to report to the Most Blessed Mother but put it off as long as possible. She knew her report was not going to be met with a receptive attitude and she chuckled at the mental picture. Finally her day was at an end and she left word with the Most Blessed Mother's personal acolyte that she requested a few moments of the Lady Rachel's time.

In a small unused anteroom off of the throne room of the palace in Cumbra stood a raised platform with a pedestal holding a table top encrusted with jewels. A small white swirling ball of energy appeared over the platform growing in size as it crackled with power. The ball's size increased until it engulfed the platform and then popped out of existence, leaving a cloaked figure standing in the middle of the platform. The cloaked figure immediately moved off of the platform and into the shadows in the corner of the room and simply vanished into thin air.

Aaron felt safe in the Shadow Realm and took a moment to orient himself in his surroundings. The orientation was a little skewed since the Shadow Realm made it more difficult to discern solid structures, like walls, steps, or hallways. Finally deciding it was safe he moved through the wall and entered the throne room, finding it empty except for four female guards dressed like the shield-maidens that had accompanied his sister so long ago. Red Guard of the Rose, he deduced correctly, and moved past them and through the outer wall entering a hallway. Two more members of the Red Guard were stationed at the doors of the throne room.

Aaron moved away from the throne room down a deserted hallway and decided he was far enough away to shift back to the Material Plane. He stopped in the shadows and waited long enough to satisfy himself that he was undetected and then made the shift.

Aaron continued to wait and then cautiously made his way down the hall keeping close to the shadows and his escape route. Aaron had a basic layout of the palace provided by Dana and Kalliste and using it he navigated around, matching actual locations to the ones described by the women. The mental map, of sorts, allowed him to navigate around the more commonly used pathways to help avoid detection. He wanted to see the courtyard where the coronation would take place, so he cautiously made his way through the maze of the palace hallways and toward the outside courtyard.

The hallways were deserted and that combined with the lack of sound reminded him of a tomb. The thoughts of a tomb brought Aaron up short and he made an impromptu decision to see the final resting place of his Whiterune family.

There were no tombs for the Blackmoon family, no place to go and set flowers on their graves, for their were no bodies to bury. Here was an opportunity to pay his respects to the family that gave him life, as well as protection. Perhaps it was foolhardy, given the present circumstances, but he did not care. He intended to visit the final resting place of his mother and sisters.

Backtracking to the previous intersection he turned right and headed for the stairs that led to the catacombs. Stopping at the double doors Aaron slowly opened one and slipped inside and closed the door behind him. Stopping at the top of the stairs he drew Black Rose and cautiously descended into the abyss of the stairwell.

"Black Rose, no fire, no glow," he cautioned his sword.

"Obviously, My Lord,"

Aaron reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped into a passageway cut from the rock. He came to an intersection and turned right and stopped.

"Black Rose, do you know where the crypts are?"

"Yes, My Lord. Straight ahead and left at the next intersection. They are guarded."

Aaron drew his hood up but stayed in Material Plane and moved along the side of the passageway staying in the shadows, effectively blending into his surroundings. He reached the intersection and turned left and saw a pair of Red Guard stationed outside a closed off crypt at the far end of the dank, musty corridor.

Slowly advancing on the Red Guard he was surprised when two members of the Black Guard appeared on either side of him and skewered the shield-maidens with their swords before he was able to close the distance. A third materialized to his right and bowed.

"Your Highness, it is not safe down here," the captain of the guard cautioned Aaron. "There are forces in the palace that would do you harm."

"I am well aware of the risks, Captain but I intend to visit the crypts of my family."

"Yes, Your Highness," the captain replied, bringing his mailed fist to his chest and bowing.

Aaron stepped over in front of the sealed opening to the vault and placed his palm on the stonework. Tapping into the flow of Eldritch he drew it forth and released it into the seams of the opening causing them to flare briefly and slide inward and out of the way.

"Guard, move the bodies into the crypt and stand ready in their places," the captain turned and addressed the two guard.

The guard moved the bodies in behind a solemn Aaron, who entered the crypt looking for the tomb of his mother. The captain followed behind as the guard moved back outside and took up positions on either side of the opening. Finding the tomb Aaron moved over toward it and placed his hand on the sarcophagus and bowed his head in silent contemplation. This was the final resting place of the woman who bore him in secret and sent him away to protect his life. His sisters were here too; one who gave up her life in his defense, and the other slain while she slept.

Sighing, Aaron looked up and kissed the sealed coffin and briefly touched the sarcophaguses of his two sisters, lingering a moment longer at Ariel's.

"I will avenge your death, sister," Aaron stated with finality and stepping back he turned to where the captain stood respectfully.

"Family is important to you is it not, Your Highness?" the captain asked.

"It is all anyone has when everything else fades away," Aaron replied and then closed his eyes. "Above all else there is family."

He thought about his unborn son and how his latest interactions with Lady Rannath had been strained to say the least. Here he had just proclaimed that family mattered above all else and yet his actions regarding Rannath disputed that. He needed to contact her and make peace and inquire about his son. Aaron silently reaffirmed his vow that the child would know his father and his heritage. He will be a Prince of the Rose, after all. Aaron looked up when the captain gently cleared his voice.

"Your Highness, may I ask a boon?" the captain asked.

"Of course, name it and if it is within my power it is yours," Aaron replied.

"It is not for me, Your Highness. Your great-aunt many times over should be interred here and yet her remains lie in an unmarked grave in the courtyard of your ancestral castle. Part of why the Black Guard is here now, with you, is because of an oath we gave to the King. That oath was left unfulfilled when she was betrayed and slain while we were her protection. Your arrival has given the guard an opportunity to fulfill that oath and regain our honor in the process. My request, Your Highness, is to move her here."

"Who betrayed her and you?"

"The high-priestess at the time. My lady liege opposed the then fledgling cult of She that has no Name and was killed because of it."

"Have the guard stay here and we will go and bring her back."

The captain bowed and instructed the two guard on their duties and signaled to his liege that he was ready. Aaron had Black Rose transport the two of them to the courtyard of the castle where they originally appeared on Tarra. The captain showed Aaron were they made their last stand and Aaron tapped into the flow of Eldritch in preparation. He reached out with his power and with the captain's help located the remains of his ancestor, using wood magic. Aaron wrapped the remains within the weave of wood magic, the power of the elves, to protect them and then drew them forth from the ground.

Aaron had Black Rose transport them back to the crypt within the catacombs under the palace in Cumbra. Tapping the flow of Eldritch, specifically rock magic, he carved a small niche in the wall of the crypt and laid his ancestor to rest. He knew that Eldritch use was monitored and he hoped his use of wood magic before and now rock magic would go undetected. It did.

He sealed off the tomb and stood back in reverent silence. Aaron felt a flutter of movement against his face as the air moved and he almost believed he heard a sigh of contentment. Peace and tranquility filled the crypt and Aaron, as well. The two left the crypt and Aaron resealed it.

"Captain, return to Andor and await me there," Aaron commanded.

"Our oath dictates otherwise, Your Highness," the captain countered. "We will remain incase you have need of us."

With that the three members faded away. Aaron shook his head and backtracked out of the catacombs and toward the courtyard, where the coronation was scheduled to take the place the following morning.

He reached an intersecting hallway with his supposed destination to the right but for some strange reason felt a pull to the left and decided to forego the courtyard for the time being. He carefully looked up and down the hallway and then took the passageway to the left and toward whatever had piqued his intuition.

The hallway he was in was easily wide enough to fit three people across so he deduced that it was a main thoroughfare within the palace. From what Dana and Kalliste had described he believed he was traveling toward the Temple of the Eternal Flame. Kalliste had warned him to be careful because She that had no Name maintained her presence within the temple and might be able to detect Aaron if he got too close.

The hallway ended at a set of ornately wrought oaken doors with gold bands and trim. Two large braziers flanked the open doors of the temple and two guards, dressed in the formal wear of the Sisterhood, stood at the ready. Fortunately for Aaron his cloak provided camouflage protection as he hugged the wall of the hallway. He carefully pulled the hood of his cloak up and shifted to the Shadow Realm.

Aaron had spent so much time in the Shadow Realm that its denizens stopped treating him as an interloper. It might also have been the fact that he wore the Ring of Shadows which denoted him as a Lord of the Realm. Either way the various wraiths, stalkers, demons, hunters, etc., barely gave him a glance of recognition. However, this time he was met by a swirling group of agitated wraiths. They did not speak but Aaron could feel the anger and frustration emanating from them. The emotions were not directed at him, he felt, but they required something from him as Lord of the Realm.

He moved toward the doors to the temple with the wraiths trailing behind him. He felt that they wanted him to go that way, which coincided with where he wanted to go. Maybe his intuition earlier was in fact the wraiths manifesting their need through the ring he wore. On the other side of the door Aaron shifted back to the Material Plane, leaving the wraiths behind.

Aaron paused a moment in the shadows and then continued on slowly being drawn by some unseen force. It was almost as if he could still feel the wraiths here on the Material Plane and they were directing his movements. There was something they wanted him to see or know.

Kalliste's descriptive layout of the temple was spot on. Aaron knew that this hallway intersected the vestibule of the temple. To the left upon entering the vestibule were the doors leading into the congregational seating and the sanctuary. To the right was the main entrance to the temple. Across the vestibule was another hallway leading to the private quarters and administrative area of the temple. In the center of the vestibule was a large fount of water, containing a large brazier of the eternal flame. It was a beautifully wrought piece juxtaposing water and fire.

It was across the vestibule and down the other hallway that Aaron was being led. Pausing at the side entrance, which was primarily used by the queen, Aaron checked to make sure he was alone. He saw two members of the Sisterhood stationed on either side of the sanctuary doors, so he knew he needed to be quiet. Aaron was being overly cautious trying not to be detected. He successfully navigated the vestibule and started down the hallway toward the administrative offices and then on to the clerics' private quarters.

He passed one bisecting hallway and was led onward toward a set of doors at the end of the hall. Halfway down the hall the doors opened causing Aaron to stop and press himself tightly to the wall, waiting to shift at a moment's notice. Aaron saw a cloaked figure leave the doorway and start toward his position. It was hard to tell who or what was under the black cloak, or the grey leggings as the cloak swished back and forth. The cloaked figure stopped about ten feet away from Aaron and looked left and right. The figure then touched something by its neck and faded from view! Aaron felt a sharp tingle from the ring he wore on the right ring finger and looked down to see the Ring of Shadows flash for a brief moment. Aaron pulled his hood up and shifted to the Shadow Realm.

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