Chapter 1: Blood is Beauty
Release One: Pages 1 - 3
THE COLD AIR in Baron Rorke's study did little to calm his nerves. He was expecting visitors this night and they were not the best of company. A shiver of dread ran down his spine and he spent most of the twilight hours staring out of a large window which stood behind his writing desk. It was amazing, he felt, how quickly a man could become attached to a life of luxury; only to be made painfully aware of how easy it was to lose it. War was always a frightening thing, even more so when one had the knowledge and sense to realise that it was no longer an exercise of glory, but a simple festival of bloodshed and cold murder. In war it did not matter if you impaled a stranger on the edge of your sword, such a thing would be punishable in any city or country, but in times of war it became an accepted norm. If the man in front of you wore a different colour, then it was alright to kill him, it was alright to rip him apart for he was an enemy. That was the twisted reality of combat and looking back on his memories of the field; the Baron wondered how he had ever considered such a thing to be glorious. Instead, he found himself almost repulsed by the thought of spilling another man's blood. It is difficult to understand the frenzy that grips a man. War is a mere keyword for destruction, it is a word of power that transforms a rational man into one without morals; who still believes himself to be just. The Baron sighed; it would do him no good to think about such things. Instead, he had to focus on the present. No longer was he the confident, barrel-chested youth with the strength of an Ox, but no less were his responsibilities even in his old age. Somehow, though he could no longer lead or inspire his armies, he would have to protect the peace that he had obtained and doing so would require a sacrifice. A sacrifice, he repeated to himself. The balding, grey-haired man that was reflected in the window seemed to smile. I will pay any price, he thought to himself, if I may enjoy these days of peace and stability. Marina will be getting married next spring, the lucky boy is a rich merchant so she'll have little to worry about. Marco on the other hand will be heading off to the Royal Knights academy in autumn and it will be four years before he graduates. Until then, I must keep things the way they are, I must keep things from changing, at least until they can all stand on their own. The Baron smiled wryly as he saw the irony in his current situation. He had participated in the War of Unification as naught but a commoner, with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Now he was a noble lord who had all he desired, but stood to lose it all. Fate can be both humourous and cruel, he chuckled to himself, in the end it seems as though my life has come full circle. Once I had nothing and now I desire nothing. All that is left to me is to maintain this existence, at least for awhile longer for the sake of my children who have no need to dirty their hands. Rorke shivered again, it was a cold night but he had been instructed not to make a fire. They would not come if he made a fire
Rorke was about to slip comfortably back into his own reverie, when the doors to his study burst open without warning. He was shocked at first, but the Baron quickly straightened his back and stood firmly. He had been informed that they would enter his home in such a manner and he had prepared himself to receive them. The air in the room seemed to stagnate immediately as though its movement were no longer permitted. A thick miasma of gloom and despair settled over the entire area and Rorke's mind grew troubled. Nerves, worries, fears of his childhood, all of it began to scurry forth like spiders from the dark recesses of his mind and the very act of swallowing his own saliva became difficult, as though something hard and lumpy had been caught in his throat. A cloaked figure appeared in the previously empty doorway, it was a slender and graceful individual that seemed to glide into the study. It was accompanied by a giant, armed from head to toe, that stood just two steps behind it, his presence making the entire room seem small and cramped. The first of the two figures, the normal sized one, pushed back the hood of its cloak and instantly the atmosphere of gloom vanished. Rorke found himself staring now, at one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen in his entire life. Her skin was flawless, unblemished and perfect; lips as red as the finest of roses. Her eyes sparkled like green pools of mystery and power and her long dark hair appeared to be as soft as silk. Her entire body seemed to carry the promise of forbidden pleasure and though the cloak hid it from sight, Rorke was painfully aware of the temptation that lay beneath the thin veil of cloth. This lady, is an enchantress! he thought to himself, trying desperately to fight against her charms. She is definitely a wielder of the arcane arts
"I am as you believe me to be," the figure responded, seemingly reading his thoughts. Her voice was rich and melodious and it seemed to soothe Rorke's heart and mind, his suspicions of her falling away immediately.
"I-I greet you," said Rorke, feeling slightly breathless. He thought that he should probably offer them a handshake and show them due courtesy, but his legs simply refused to obey him. "Forgive me for my lack of manners; I seem to be unable to approach you."
"That is fine," said the lady, her lips curving into a confident smile, "A worm has no right to touch me in the first place. Arghast is the only one permitted contact, aren't you?" The lady turned to smile at her companion, who remained silent with just the barest nod to acknowledge her statement.
Rorke found himself unable to look directly at the lady without feeling a shameful amount of lust and so he averted his eyes away from her, settling upon the giant. This man was indeed a titan and he easily dwarfed his female companion by a large margin. He appeared to be about seven feet tall, perhaps slightly under, but his muscular physique combined with his heavy armaments to multiply his size and make him very intimidating. Rorke thought that he looked like a walking fortress and that nothing in the world would have an easy time in trying to topple him. Rorke shivered as the idea of facing someone like him in the field crossed his mind. It would be an utterly terrifying experience with the only options being retreat or death. It made him glad that he long since retired from the field. Still, a part of his soldier's instinct remained with him and before he knew it, Rorke was doing a mental identification of everything the giant was carrying. Amongst the various plates of armor, Rorke noted the following arms: one pair of battle axes, with a vicious serrated edge on each one, strapped across his back for easy access; several throwing knives, holstered around his waist, all curved in an unnatural manner; one batch of throwing axes, heavy headed and hand-made, hanging freely from his belt and within quick reach of his right hand. Rorke couldn't particularly quite see it well, but the giant also appeared to be carrying a large shield-like object across his shoulders. Rorke thought that he might have a closer look at it, but his gaze was forcibly torn away and brought back to focus upon the lady.
"A worm should not be averting his sight from one as beautiful as I am," said the lady, walking slowly toward the Baron, her hips swaying gently with each step. "Am I of no interesting to you?"
The Baron's breathing quickened and he felt his heart beating faster, but this wasn't excitement, this was fear. "No m'am," he stammered, using a polite title despite the lady being obviously younger than him, "I meant no disrespect."
"But of course you didn't," said the lady, reaching out with her right hand to stroke his cheek gently. "I did not permit it after all."
The Baron's thoughts began to grow cloudy, the lady's touch was so soft and warm and her scent was heavenly, it made him hungry, hungry to be close to her.
"Would you like to be my newest toy?" asked the lady.
The Baron was about to answer with a loud 'yes', when he was thankfully brought back to his senses by a wicked curved knife that flashed in front of his face, embedding itself all the way down to the hilt upon his writing desk. The armoured giant approached him and retrieved the knife, the Baron blinking blearily at him. "My apologies," the giant rumbled, his voice sounding like a rock-slide, "my sister finds it difficult to avoid playing with those who are
inclined to temptation."
"Ah, I see," replied the Baron, the fog slowly lifting from his mind. "That's dangerous," he muttered lamely, his brain not quite functioning.
Arghast had just barely sheathed his weapon when he was violently knocked to the ground by his female companion. "Do not interrupt me!" she shrieked at him. Arghast seemed unfazed by her temper tantrum and got to his feet with a shrug, "you may now resume your explanation sister."
The lady scowled at him and turned back to face the Baron, "I am Akara, the Pale Mistress of Death. This armoured giant, as I've said before, is my brother Arghast. We are the Seekers and we are willing to offer our services as long as you can pay the price."
Rorke nodded and shook his head, trying to clear it in vain, "I-I do have what you seek here." He reached for the drawer on the left side of his writing desk, digging around in it for a glowing purple crystal. This had been a gift from a powerful mage during the war and Rorke had kept it with him as a sort of lucky charm. He was told that it contained powerful magic, but he was obviously unable to use it. "Will this be enough for you m'am?"
"Ah, such a pretty bauble," smiled Akara, as she raised her right hand and waved at it, causing the crystal to leap into the air and soar into her waiting palm. "Oh yes, this will do very nicely. I haven't seen this one yet!"
"Is it one of the memories we seek?" asked Arghast, folding his arms across his chest.
Akara shook her head and pocketed the gem, "I have no way to tell for the moment brother, I will have to examine it with my magic. However, before we can play around with it, I do believe that we owe it to our dear Baron to fulfil his request. After all, he has already paid us a handsome price. Now tell me my dear Baron, what do you wish in exchange for this?"
"An end," said Rorke as the fog that clouded his mind cleared away. "I desire an end to Baron Torval's life, for I know that he intends to attack my lands come spring. I-I cannot afford to lose what I have and though my army could hold him, I would prefer not to have unnecessary casualties on my end. If Baron Torval is killed however, his chiefs will begin to fight amongst themselves and my lands will be safe for a few years to come."
Akara smiled, but it was an expression without warmth. It reflected only her cruelty and her desire to inflict pain, "as it has been requested, so too shall it be done." With a quick swirl of her cloak, a surge of dark magic filled the air and both she and the giant vanished, dissolving away into the taunting shadows. When it was done, Baron Rorke's hair was left standing on end and he felt as though his very soul had been violated. In the end, he wound up sitting in his study until dawn the next day, unable to move, think or sleep. All I needed was a sacrifice right? With this, everything will end and my children will be safe. No more will I need to get anything dirty, no more, no more
-Chen Yuan Wen, 1st September 2012