Nhaka’s writings, continued…
I have to say, this feeling of undeath got a whole lot stronger the moment I entered the château and set foot upon the lightlessness of its main hall. This aura of dread only got stronger as I made my way past the luxurious furnishings and up the staircase, all of which were smothered in pitch black shadows, as though a deathly pall rests upon the entirety of the interior. So much so, that I found myself envisioning the armies of my fellow Archons that would be needed to tear down the walls of this great château and slay the dark being awaiting within.
After all, never will it ever be a question of why, but rather, how it would be done. Elicia’s will is absolute! But even if mortal lives have been claimed by many individuals I have known and encountered over the centuries to be mostly expendable, I know that Elicia cares for her children, and that she weeps for every death. She does, even if she doesn’t want to show it to anyone, not even to her Handmaiden who serves her loyally as the Ecclesiarch of her Central Church, to whom she claims is a reincarnation her other half cast aside for the Hellbourne.
And so better, I’d say, that I get it done my way.
At the third floor, I found myself pausing right before what seemed like a study of sorts. Where just beyond the great double door that lay slightly ajar, were antique bookcases filled with tomes as well as a rather fancy-looking bed. Cushioned armchairs too, that despite being shrouded in the colours of the night like the rest of the château, looked so comfortable for a little rest for my sore feet.
And so I entered, knocking lightly upon the ornate surface of the door before I walked past it. As soon as I did, I heard the doors slam shut behind me, probably compelled by the same magical force controlling everything else here. This was then quickly followed up by the ratcheting of bolts upon those doors. I suppose to turn tail and flee now would be impossible, huh?
But then again, why would I flee? Especially now, when I see within the gaze of all my eyes and eyestalks, the Countess of Eldia standing before a massive frost-stained window, behind a desk sprawled with all manner of opened tomes and what seemed like research notes upon the floor as well, scattered about the carpet as though the nightmarish work of an insane architect.
The scent of wilted roses tickled my nostrils as I looked at her, a young elven lady who wore robes of red and gold in the esoteric fashion of the elven sorcerers of old. And when she turned around to face me, I saw upon her neck a necklace of white gold set with a ruby the size of a quail’s egg. It radiated with arcane enchantments, a Lich’s phylactery if I’ve ever seen one.
“I sensed your arrival, and what you have. Waited for it, too. So, now that you’re here, tell me this. Who are you?”
Her voice was sharp, perhaps even deadly if words could kill. Though even then, there was a tiredness in her words as she spoke them. Her eyes were crimson like bloody orbs set in white, passionless as they looked upon the gaze of all of my eyes and eyestalks. And now that she was facing me, I could see, much to my annoyance, that she was a forehead taller than my vertically challenged self.
But of course, I didn’t let that bother me! If I did, I’d be angry with at least nine-tenths of Melodia, and then some. Instead, I thought about my time with the first Handmaiden and Ecclesiarch, Lyra de Escaflora, and all that she had taught me about proper etiquette centuries ago at the beginning of the Empire of Arcadia when Elicia ordained the tenets of her Law and her Peace upon the world. And with my best smile, the one that Iris de Escaflora won’t admit is her favourite whenever she has her servants prepare my most beloved strawberry shortcakes for our teatime at her Studio, I performed a curtsey before the Countess, of whom was now lord of Eldia.
At least, what remained of it.
“I’m Nhaka Mezalune!” I said, making sure to maintain eye contact with her using all three of the eyes upon my face. “An Archon in service of Elicia, the living god of humanity who claims all of Melodia under her Empire of Arcadia!”
“An Archon?” she answered, furrowing her eyebrows as a look of genuine confusion began to take root upon her undeathly features. “And this… Elicia, a human deity?”
As I maintained eye contact with her, my eyestalks stole a glance at the empty fireplace by the side of the room. Alongside the lightlessness of the study and the hall outside, I could only smile and nod as I cast aside my fur coat, unveiling the rucksack I had prepared for this audience. And as she watched me, I reached in and took out the little satchel stored within amongst a great many other items. Where within, lay the one of many keys to winning the heart of this Countess, I was sure.
“The world has changed,” I answered after a while. “The Alyssian Empire you speak of has fallen, and in its ashes, my mistress reigns supreme. She has united all of Melodia under her Empire of Arcadia. And we, her Archons, rule in her stead as her chosen servants.”
“You’re telling me that those barbarians who can’t even organise a picnic now have a god and a whole Empire?” she said in reply, raising a brow at me as she crossed her arms. “There’s no way Abaddon would’ve allowed…”
“He wouldn’t!” I exclaimed as I unveiled to her a shattered fragment of Abbadon’s royal seal, of which had been divided up amongst us Archons. “But he’s also a thing of the past! Now, Elicia is the present and the future.”
As I looked at her confusion, I found myself pausing in turn as I wondered how long this Lich had condemned herself to this tomb of what was once Eldia. The last of Abaddon’s line and what remained of his loyalists had been slain almost two centuries ago. I wasn’t there personally at the front lines, but Lyra told me that it had taken all of the many armies of Elicia’s Archons to end the elves that had rallied under his banner, with Elicia herself slaying Abaddon upon the field of battle.
“There’s no mistaking the energies of this. So, you do speak the truth, huh? My name is Elena de L’Enfer, and I haven’t had visitors in, well, forever,” she said to me after what felt like eternity’s worth of consideration on her part. “But let’s get to the point, no? I sensed a great energy from something you bear. So, what is it?”
Oh, well! I suppose wandering the same paths over and over without news or conversation does leave one unexposed to events in the greater world out there, huh? It was with this upon my mind that I reached once more into my rucksack.
“I offer you this, my little Countess,” I said as I unveiled the seed pod within the little satchel that kept it safe and sound. “Renewal to heal this land.”
There was a rather visible pause from the Countess of Eldia, right after I noticed her wincing at how I had addressed her, right when she saw the result of my preparations. That, and a gasp too, as she took a step forward towards me while her eyes looked down towards the aura of natural magics aching upon the eldritch flesh of my hand that glowed a rather fantastical shade of light green on my palm.
“Impossible… how do you have this power within your hand… for years I’ve searched and studied for location of the Sefir’s seed, I…”
I couldn’t help but smile at this. The Countess, this Elena de L’Enfer, may be a Lich, but like all elves, even she recognised the majesty of the great Sefir. Or at least, what remained of this living symbol of Sophia’s creation in the days where the twin gods of the elves existed upon Melodia.
And now, you might be asking what this Sefir is. Or you might not. Well, I don’t know what’s on your mind, but I’ll explain anyway! It was this great tree, whose branches were said to be a sunspot into the very heavens themselves. Whose ancient and sacred bark was said to be worshipped by the elves of old, and is still held dear by the Wild Elves who roam the frozen lands in their little trade caravans from city to city. There are many like it, tended to and grown in the shape of it across the elven settlements and reservations established by my fellow Archons within their dominions as per the tenets of Elicia’s Law. Little more than primitive symbols, lacking the ancient magics and the blessing of Sophia.
The real one, on the other hand, was the first sacrifice to we, the Hellbourne, by the first of Abaddon’s line and his ilk. Reduced to little more than a pyre to fuel the eldritch rites that would break the barrier between Melodia and all of Chaos. The war for survival between humanity and elvenkind was, for the longest of times, the centric theme of all Melodia. And when the humans raised up high a god born of their hopes and dreams, the elves brought forth the Hellbourne, sacrificing their gods for the eldritch power that we could offer them. Divine or eldritch, we were all weapons in a war for extinction, no different from an enchanted blade or a spellbound siege engine.
And of it all, the rest is history, most of it lost when Elicia assumed dominion over all that is worth knowing and existing when, at an offer she won’t speak fully of even today, became master of the Hellbourne. But that’s probably why she wears that half-mask, and why the Handmaiden looks just like her. One half, at least.
Well anyway, ever since the destruction of the Sefir, the seeds of this great tree were scattered to the winds, lost to the chaos of war. Since then, they’ve fallen into rather unsavoury hands, I’d say. Like the dragon Terask Dagon, Sorcerer King of the Cathanian Imperium. This seed that I hold now within my hand, was offered to us from his treasury, the Vault of Chi Xi Hung. One tribute amongst many others when he and his kind bent the knee to Elicia long ago. I’d like to think that he thought it to be little more than a trinket, a worthless bauble from a time long past. Especially now that we, the Hellbourne, have come to be upon Melodia, a land where the gods of old are but whispers of the past.
Ah, to think that the dragons were once said to be the most cherished children of Sophia! Created and blessed from men and elves, no less! Just as Amon, her other half, created the liches and the vampires of the living dead by her blessing. And if Terask Dagon truly thought Sophia’s dream to be dead, I’d like to think that I knew better.
After all, how else would this symbol of a dead goddess still bear such vibrant life? Certainly not by my hand, that’s for sure. For this one, I’d have to thank my dear friend and fellow Archon, the Eternal Alchemist Alicia l’ Auteur. Within her dominion that is the Isle of Eden, of which lies upon the western seas of the Empire of Arcadia, she has found a way to reawaken this once dormant seed by means of alchemical process. That perhaps one day, the secrets of the gods of old will be laid bare for all.
And speaking of laying things bare, I could see the interest ignited within the crimson eyes of the Countess’s once passionless gaze. If she wanted to hide it, she wasn’t doing a very good job, that was for sure. But I doubt she wanted to, for without want of a second thought, she took off her phylactery from her neck, offering it to me.
“I have only one thing I can offer to you that can match the value to this… renewal,” she said, looking me in my three eyes, her words fast and bursting with passion. “This I offer to you, Archon of Elicia.”
I'll admit that at that very moment, for the shortest of moments, I forgot why I had come here. The phylactery of this Lich was indeed very, very tantalising, with all of the magical energies pulsating within and radiating without. And admittedly, my cravings for magical artifacts often gets the better of me. Even in times like these!
Ah, but what can I say? Being a Beholder, a greater Hellbourne of the Diffraction within Chaos, I am who I am. And when I looked into the desperate passion in the Countess’s crimson eyes, I must say that I lost my sense of reverie, however distractingly intoxicating it was to have around.
“No,” I said in reply, smiling as I held out my other hand to reject the phylactery being offered to me. “I don’t want you to die for me. That’s too easy!”
“What?” she exclaimed, taking a step back as her lips curled up into a frown. “You won’t accept this… and yet, now that I know what it is that you have, I can’t let you leave, I…”
“No, no, no! You misunderstand me!” I squealed, maintaining my smile even while the air around me felt thicker for some reason as I eyed the Countess of Eldia. “I want you to live. For me. Your soul will be in my keeping, and you’ll serve me as one of my Viziers. Just as I’m sure you sense my power, I sense yours as well! I could use someone like you to deal with my enemies.”
“Then what of Eldia?” she asked me after a while. “I suppose if I'm to serve you, I won’t be here anymore, huh?”
“That’s correct!” I exclaimed in reply, only to have my enthusiasm be severely dampened when I saw her frown at me. “This land that was once yours will be under the safekeeping of Iris de Escaflora. She’s a dear friend of mine who serves Elicia as her Handmaiden, you’ll get to meet her, and I’m sure we’ll all get along nicely!”
“So, you want me to leave this place with you,” she said after a while. “Well, I haven’t left Eldia in… forever. I won’t lie, this is a little crazy, y’know? A world ruled by humans, and their god, and…”
At that moment, she looked like she wanted to say something more to that. But the words, whatever they may have been, eluded her. And as I looked upon the sorrow in her crimson eyes as she considered my offer, I put away the seed into its pouch in favour of something else within my rucksack. Much to my relief, it had survived the trip unscathed.
“Who is that?” she asked as she watched me unfurl and hand to her the poster I had prepared for our fateful encounter. “She’s…”
“Elician Jewel!” I exclaimed with a smile as I too, found myself smiling as I beheld the radiant smile and beautiful dress of red and gold that the lady of my poster wore. “Heretic’s latest star! You like her?”
And as I said this, I could see her blushing a bright shade of green upon her elvish features as she held the poster in her hands. I suppose the Countess of Eldia, a heritor of Amon’s blessing, was still more mortal than she cared to admit. Or perhaps Heretic’s just that good! The men and women, be they humans or elves, are the finest of mortal specimens. Especially the ones from their so-called ‘Private Collection’. That, I know for sure!
But even then, even now as I looked upon the beauty of this ravishing yellow-haired human upon this posterw whom the guild had coined as their 'Elician Jewel', I couldn't help but wonder if she, this courtesan of Heretic, was truly happy like her smile. Perhaps it's just little more than a thought, but if there's one thing I've figured out over my centuries upon Melodia when it comes to the mortals, be they men or elves, it's less about the words said, but of those unsaid if one would divine the truth. That beneath one's smile to the crowd, might be sorrow unending in solitude.
Ah, well. I can only wonder! And perhaps the Countess knew this as well. Or perhaps she too, believed what she wished to believe in this frozen image I had shown her. Of what could be, of what once was.
“I just think she’s…” she then said, averting my gaze as she handed the poster back to me. “Beautiful. She looks so happy, so passionate in there! I… I know what those are like, and yet, I can’t feel it. Not anymore. But thank you for letting me see this. I almost forgot…”
“Keep the poster. It’s a gift from me to you!” I replied, still smiling as I gently pushed the poster away, such that it remained within her hands. “Like I said, the world beyond Eldia has changed over the centuries. There’re so many things to see, and I’ll share with you all the wondrous splendours of this new world that I have come to behold! It’ll be like an adventure, with just the two of us! And maybe someday, you’ll meet her, and…”
“That’s a big ‘if’, Archon of Elicia,” she said matter-of-factly, though even then, I spotted the slightest hint of a smile upon her lips. “Though even then…”
She paused as she said this, looking down towards the poster of the Elician Jewel once more. Then towards me, as I held out to her the seed of the Sefir even as it burned upon my eldritch flesh. And after that, we left the study together, walking side-by-side down the dark staircase and into the shadowy halls of the château as we left it in favour of a town square that had been, up till now, little more than a fleeting memory.