“The Knights are holding up in the village,” announced Brutus as he slumped into his seat at the small council table. Eileen nodded and made some notes. Briefly she glanced down the table to where I sat before glancing over the papers in front of her.

“We have suffered only a few casualties, but all things considered it could have been worse,” she said, “Timothy your timing was impeccable, thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

There was a brief moment of silence as everyone at the table waited patiently for some sign to continue. Eileen continued to casually look over her notes and Timothy ignored the silence while studying one of the books he had pulled from his study. Brutus straightened in his chair a bit and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.

Eileen was the first to break the silence, “we should work to make contact with our allies in the village, either Burgermeister Collins or miss Veronica. I believe all attempts should be made to negotiate peacefully.”

“Hah!” barked Brutus, “I doubt they can be simply reasoned with so long as our rightful Lady is undead.”

“Agreeable, but we should try. Perhaps we could plead our case directly to the church. Lady Gwenyth would need their support before long in order to add legitimacy to her claim.”

“Also unlikely,” argued Timothy, “they do have the habit of teaching about the evils of necromancy, the vile nature of the undead, and all that.”

“When need allies not enemies,” pressed Eileen.

“Personally I think we could just raise an army of the undead wipe out the Holly Knights. It's rather difficult to fight against us if they’re dead,” Timothy smiled, “As a bonus if there dead we could raise them to serve us.”

“Are you suggesting that we incur a fight with everyone?” stated Eileen with a small tone of frustration, “We are hardly enduring ourselves and our Lady if we simply kill all those who disagree with us, and I for one would like to avoid the same mistake of the Dark Lord by casually making enemies of everyone.”

“Not if we grow in enough power,” offered Timothy, “the Dark Lord did know some secrets that would certainly give us an edge in any conflict.”

“Yet the Dark Lord lies defeated, and I would like to assist my Lady in avoiding that same fate.”

“Then what are you suggesting,” asked Brutus.

“I already made my suggestion to the small council,” explained Eileen, “we sue for peace.”

“I agree,” I spoke up, “I have personal desire not to incite further conflict with these holy knights.”

There was a collective nod from around the table.

“If that's all we have to say on that matter. I have some additional news,” pressed Brutus, “I have received word back from the riders that were sent out to investigate the rumours of Richten’s former followers up in the mountains. The initial report advised there were signs of what seemed to have been a large encampment near the highstone bridge that crosses the gorge. Traces of the encampment leads higher into the mountains.”

“Our sources say the are looking for something, do we know what yet?” I asked.

Brutus shook his head, “Not yet.”

“I might have a theory on that,” suggested Timothy, “Some of the historical accounts suggest there is some sort of lost ruins up in the mountains, potentially a tomb or a temple, though the accounts can’t seem to agree.”

“Any particular reason Richten’s former followers might want to uncover this tomb?”

Timothy shrugged, “Any variety of reasons. It might hold a powerful artifact, a collection of knowledge, or perhaps Richten might have originally wanted it for his personal use considering our Lady had claimed this castle.”

“I want the rest of Richten’s followers eliminated,” I reaffirmed, “perhaps if we have the opportunity we could further investigate these ruins, but for now I feel there are more pressing concerns.”

“As you command my lady.”

As I looked out from the height of the stone tower towards the tall peaked mountains that caged in the valley, I contemplated how cold, aloof and heartless they stood eternally keeping that vigil. I held little doubt that the very walls of this castle were built from the stones of those mountains. It seemed symbolic that there was a cold indifferent and heartless foundation for the Dark Lord's castle. A fitting start to a near immortal ruler who reigned with fear and oppression.

With a frustrated sigh, I leaned out the window and reached out hand along the tower wall. In the dark my fingers shifted into sharp talons, and with that I leveraged myself out the window and began to climb up to the roof of the tower. My control over my abilities was becoming easier over time. Things that had once been instinctual, or subconscious I now find I was able to do at will. A part of me suspects that ever since I had become cursed I been able to use aspects of theses dark gifts, and that I just didn't want to acknowledge them at the time. 

I was able to scale the side of the tower easily, almost unnervingly easy. I flipped onto the roof and found I could balance myself easily as I walked over to the spire that stretched up towards the night sky. The view might have been breathtaking if the world it existed in wasn't so depressing lost.

Casually I squatted down with my back to the tall pointed spire and looked up at the bleak night sky. Like I had done so long ago, I wondered if I should remain sitting here until the sun rose. Let it's bright burning rays scorch away my life. It didn't seem like I had a choice in the matter anymore. My life didn't seem like my own, now that I was shackled to the needs of rulership.

For awhile I sat underneath the cloudy night sky. There was some drive outside of rulership to see the last of the Dark Lord's and Richten's followers defeated so as to eliminate the last threat to future peace of the valley. Timothy had thus far been vague on the details but assured me there was a method to reviving those afflicted by the Dark Lord's curse, and these last remnants held that knowledge. Perhaps after their defeat I could arrange for a peaceful transfer of power, and then I could depart in peace.

Feeling a slight weight has been lifted off my shoulders I stood and stretched before making my way to the edge of the roof then carefully descending back down to window. Not once did I have to worry about slipping or falling.

I slipped through the window and crept down the stairwell. Even though I led a nocturnal life thanks to my curse, many of the castles residence kept to the mortal standard of operating by day. Only those that I worked with closely abided by my same schedule, including the small council and those that Eileen had singled out from among the servants to personally serve me.

"You wanted to see me?"

I stopped at the unexpected voice that carried up the stairwell. For a moment I thought that whoever was speaking was talking to me. Then the rational side of me dismissed the thought. 

"Yes," came the reply. I could see torch light coming up the stairs and I debated if I wanted to announce myself before deciding that I didn't feel up to dealing with people. Especially those looking to have a private conversation in a tucked away corner of the castle.

Quietly I took a leap up into the shadows above the stairs and grabbed a handhold. Idly I noticed there were several worn handholds and claw marks among the underside of the stairs. Either a creature of some sort or perhaps the Dark Lord and his ilk made regular use of crawling along above the stairs. It made sense. I could see the potential for ambush or a stealthy escape. 

Below the light came around the corner and I could see the two who wanted to meet discreetly in the late hour.

"Now that we are here, talk!" Said Brutus.

Eileen crossed her arms, "I am your ally here Brutus, you have tied our fates to your aspiring heir to the Dark Lord's throne.  Now I want to know what your plan is."

"I'm not entirely sure what your talking about."

"I think you do Brutus of house Castillo."

From up high I could see Brutus stiffen and then try to dismiss Eileen's comment. 

"I have nothing to do with that fallen family."

"I prefer your honesty Brutus. It's only because of your uncle that I agreed to arrange so many to join your cause to support Lady Gwenyth."

"I didn't realize he was involved in this," muttered Brutus.

"Hardly, considering his public death in front of your family ancient estate. Something you would know if you kept in contact with your family."

In my mind's eye I could see the stem look Eileen must have given Brutus. He seemed to squirm a bit before straightening.

"So you know the truth of who I am. Have you told Gwyneth?"

"No and I doubt she would care unless there's more to your family that I'm not aware of."

Somehow judging from this conversation I felt like I should try to learn more about this house of Castillo. Especially now that I'm learning that Brutus is not the gypsy nomad I thought he was. What else don't I know about my closest followers?

"The common people don't fondly appreciate my family considering who my uncle supported."

"Commoners and peasants never appreciate the noble ruling class," Eileen said pointedly, "I do admit your uncle never did win them any favors. However your uncle is not who I wished to speak about tonight."

"You want to know my supposed master plan?" Brutus gave a shrug, "simply I want to see my Lady survive long enough to rule."

"Your loyalty is admirable."

The two stood quietly in the dark while I digested this surprising unexpected insight into Brutus.

"I suggest," spoke Eileen, interrupting the silence that had fallen over them, "that you make contact with your family. The name Castillo still carries some weight over the remaining noble houses, and if they see your house gain favour by supporting our Lady then perhaps they will too."

"You seem well versed in noble practice and politics," commented Brutus, "how did you come by such an education?"

"I have served to tutor many great families. During my time, I picked up a few things."

"I see."

Brutus turned away carrying his torch.

“Remember Brutus, since we have tossed in our lot with Gwenyth her fate has become ours. If she fails to rise to rule over the valley we all will fall with her.”

Eileen followed after him into the retreat light down the stairs. I waited for the breath of several minutes before I descended quietly. Once my feet touched the stairs I stood there asking myself how well I really knew the people around me and their motives. As much as Brutus claim his motives were out of a growing loyalty to me I felt there was more to it, or maybe the fact that I only just recently discovered he had hidden a major part of his pay from me was casting his loyalty into doubt.

Then there was Timothy and Eileen. Both dangerously intelligent in their area of expertise. Timothy seemed easily motivated by learning and uncovering the secrets of the arcane. Would he turn his knowledge against me if properly motivated? 

Then there was Eileen, who assured me her interests were academic in the area of restoration and preservation. Now I really questioned her motives and intentions. With a frown I descended down the stairs contemplating the uncertainty of my future.

Only a few hours ago I thought all I had to worry about was the dreaded return of the Dark Lord. At least with him I knew exactly where he and I stood.


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