tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Blood Pact Ch. 34

The Blood Pact Ch. 34

bykimtheelf©

Slowly, the Marquise's chambers resolved out of my tear-smeared vision. Delphina sat across from me on the couch. I'd never seen her look as haggard as she did at that moment with legs folded under her and hands clasped in her lap, staring into the distance. From the antechamber, I could hear the familiar tread of Traemene and Wilona pacing. Elsewhere in the chambers the servants were bustling about like ants after having had their mound kicked over. King Rosenthal's threats must have served their purpose.

I still didn't want to believe Nikelle was dead -- I wished that it had just been some vivid dream -- but I'd seen it. It HAD happened. The woman I loved was dead, executed at the hands of a monster right before my very eyes.

I sat up lethargically, shoulders stooped, instantly drawing Delphina's attention. My hair was probably askew and my face felt tight from all the crying. However, my expression was now cold and grim. On the table before me lay the silver training dagger I'd returned to Delphina just the day before.

"Stephanie?" Delphina ventured. "Are you well? After yesterday, I was afraid I'd never see you again. I am glad that was not the case, but I do wish it could have been under better circumstances."

"I'm sorry I made you worry," I said mechanically, still staring at the knife. "Things didn't work out as I'd planned."

I was just as much to blame for Nikelle's death as the king. If I'd only been a little more helpful in her crusade, maybe things would have turned out differently. Maybe we could have made things better for everyone living in the kingdom. Maybe she'd still be alive. But like a coward, I had simply let her go to her death. I'd done nothing but let her down time and time again.

Standing, I snatched up the dagger from the table and clutched it to my breast. "I think I may yet have need of this after all. There are things I left unfinished to which I still need to attend."

As I hurried from the room, Delphina rose haltingly, as if fatigued. "Stephanie! Please, don't do anything rash!"

I'd already wasted far too much time on being cautious. Now was exactly the time for recklessness. I was going to kill that goddamn Rosenthal. One way or another, I was going to avenge Nikelle.

Traemene stepped in front of the door with arms spread to bar my advance. "Stephanie..."

"Out of my way, Traemene."

Wilona advanced uncertainly from the side. In the doorway behind me, Delphina leaned against the jamb. "Stephanie, these are dangerous times. I know she was your friend, but even just that may have already signed your death warrant."

She was right, of course. Knowing King Rosenthal's temper, guards could already be coming for me after that display I'd put on in the throne room. And with the protection of his Dark God, would I really have any better luck than Nikelle? I'd felt that thing's power first hand. Even if I was able to get him to lower his guard, I doubted it would make a difference. I'd need a wizard to combat something like that.

Or maybe a wizard's weapon.

I could still feel the knobby length of the Transformation Wand in the hidden pocket of my dress where I'd stuffed it after transforming myself back into Stephanie.

Would that work? I'd already used it to transform myself twice now so I knew I could, in fact, wield it, but would it have any effect on the Dark God in that stone? I didn't have any choice but to try. Nikelle didn't deserve anything less.

"Please, let me go."

"I don't like this, Stephanie," Delphina said. "Not one bit."

"It hardly matters anymore. I've stopped caring what becomes of me. Death seems to be the only conclusion I have to expect."

Delphina slapped me then, hard enough that the whole side of my face stung and my vision filled with stars for a moment. "Don't you ever say such a thing!"

Holding my jaw, I met Delphina's gaze. It was angry, but her eyes were moist with tears.

"Delphina, please," I said, my voice firm. "I know what I'm doing."

Traemene looked to Delphina with a worried shake of the head. The Marquise closed her eyes and shook her head as well, but then nodded. "Go," she said. "I taught you the best I was able, but there comes a time when you must be allowed to make your own decisions. I only pray that you're making the right one."

As did I.

"I thank you, Lady Delphina. For everything." As I stepped to the door, I laid a reassuring hand on Traemene's shoulder and nodded to Wilona. I could see none of them agreed, or even understood with my actions, but the encouragement I felt from them in return was sincere. I'd never had friends as true as them before in my entire life. I could only hope I did not disappoint them.

The passageways of the palace were both barren and crowded at the same time. Guards were out in force, the entire garrison obviously having been turned out as an overwhelming show of force. Servants and nobles, however, were staying in their rooms with doors barred, waiting for the chaos to blow over. In the past, I might have been allowed into the king's chambers without his summons, but that was not going to happen today.

Instead, I went to the gardens. There were no guards at all there. I hurried though the immaculately trimmed maze of hedges, blind to the beauty which surrounded me. I had only my goal in mind and all else did not matter. I arrived at the gate where I'd so often met with the King in the past. It was locked, as it always was, but that would not stop me.

I pulled out the Transformation wand and pointed it at the gate. My thoughts were so focused, it took but a moment before the heavy brass of the lock turned to water and fell away with a splash, leaving the gate unsealed. I tossed it open and dashed through the King's personal gardens. The throne room lay just ahead at the top of a grand garden stairway. I took the steps two at a time, my long skirts barely hindering my pace at all.

At the top of the stairs was a cobbled terrace I remembered well, but at the sight of it, I froze. There on the spot where Nikelle had been killed, the ground was colored by an immense pool of red that had puddled in the cracks between the stones and was only just beginning to grow dark as the flies clustered. The stump was gone, but its shadow remained in the form of a bare ring in the middle of the pooled blood. Long streaks of red and trampled boot marks indicated where Nikelle's body had been removed. Was she going to be buried in some unmarked grave, or simply left out for the vultures?

A mewing whimper slipped from my mouth to see the last vestiges of my love desecrated thusly, but I swallowed it down and grasped the Transformation Wand all the more tightly. Reaffirming my goal, I strode into the empty throne room, careful not to disturb the scene any more than it already was.

The morning light was shining in and illuminated the white room in glorious brilliance except for where the black altar sat with brooding malevolence. I could imagine the Dark God laughing, tauntingly from inside its vessel, safe in the knowledge that I was powerless to stop it.

I raised the wand and pointed it like a dagger. This would be the end. The king had said his Dark God was the stone in which it dwelled. In that case, I would turn it into something harmless that would no longer be able to contain its vile nature. I imagined the stone melting away into a vapor, dissipating on the breeze and never to be seen again. My focus was razor sharp, my intent unwavering.

It should have worked just as easily as it had with the gate latch, but the black stone simply sat there, mockingly unchanged. Something was wrong. I could feel the Dark God -- it was definitely not my imagination this time. It was resisting my efforts, countering the effect of the Wand with the force of its black heart.

I bared my teeth and redoubled my efforts. I would not lose to that hateful thing. It clearly had power, but my rage was far greater than anything it could possibly use in its defense.

Like a startled fish in a tank, I felt the Dark God thrash about. It had not been expecting that. It reeled and scrambled to fight back. The stone quivered as if made of jelly and then solidified once more.

My hand shook from how tightly I held the wand. I gripped it with my other hand as well and planted my feet. I would not let this Dark God of the Mordengern win. Today, it would be undone. I would destroy it, once and for all! In my mind, I imagined the black stone evaporating like water splashed into a frying pan.

The Dark God thrashed at the confines of its realm, pushing back. It was growing desperate. It hadn't expected such a power to equal its own, but each attempt to resist only intensified my focus.

Both of my arms were now trembling so violently that it felt as if my shoulders might be pulled from their sockets. This time it wasn't just me, it was the wand itself. It had never been intended for such use. I had to end this now before I damaged it irrevocably.

The Dark God felt my desperation. I could hear its laughter inside my mind. It thought it had won.

With a growl, I assaulted it once more, this time with every last shred of my resolve. My foe pulled in on itself and became a quivering bundle of tension.

It was frantic now, panicked. Just a little longer and I would have it. I could feel it in my marrow.

However, the wand was growing uncomfortably warm. The wood of which it was made was flaking off in my hands. I could feel the lattice of spells woven into it coming undone. It was only my own force of will that was holding it together at all. If I relaxed for even a moment, it would tear apart. I was certain I had already ruined it beyond all repair, but that no longer mattered. Regardless of the price, I swore to myself and to the memory of Nikelle that I would destroy this Dark God!

With a titanic surge of will, I pushed against the thing inside that hideous block of stone. It would be undone, removed for all time from this realm!

Its wail of panic ripped through my mind at the same instant a great shock sounded from the altar. I could feel it ripple though the floor, up through my feet with a great hollow thud. A flash of light and a blast of force knocked my arms wide and threw me onto my ass.

Gasping to fill lungs which no long seemed willing to seek air, I struggled to make my black-flecked vision focus. The palms of my hands were red. The wand was gone. All that remained of it were small brown flakes that drifted away like burnt paper, vanishing completely with warm, firefly-like glows. In my recklessness, I'd destroyed the one thing that would have given me my freedom back.

And sitting across the throne room, the black altar remained, unchanged. Closer and less imagined than ever before, I could also hear the crescendoing laughter of the Dark God, subtle at first, building quickly to a roaring guffaw of stunned disbelief. Its horrifying presence in the room was more tangible than ever before, looming like a thickening cloud spreading out from the altar.

As if in a dream, where the best defense against some unseen monster is to remain as inconspicuous as possible, I pushed myself slowly across the floor until I backed into the steps leading up to the king's throne. Careful not to take my eyes form the altar, I rose up to sit upon the bottom step. As I did so, the light shifted across the surface of the black stone. Where before it had been a single uniform piece of rock, I could now make out a thin, barely visible fracture that had split the entire thing in two. That must have been the cause of that hollow crash from before. Maybe it hadn't been completely unharmed after all.

Not that it seemed to have done any good. I'd put forth all that effort -- wasted the one weapon I had to use against it -- and that was all the damage I'd done? The king's Dark God of the Mordengern was still alive, just as powerful as ever and effectively unharmed. I didn't want it to end like this, but the simple fact of the matter was that I'd lost.

To Be Continued...

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