Chapter 53: Great Beast of the Elysian Woods
Cecilia took a glass of wine as the server offered one with a bow. She took a sip as she watched the Lord Warden and Archmagus each take a glass. In truth though these two groups were small, they still held significant sway in the region. If either Istland or the Wardens threw their lot in with a particular side. They were more than capable of turning the tide.
Afterall if such small nations have survived until now it was a testament to their power. Although technically the Warden’s aren’t a nation they are just an autonomous group.
“You are bold, your grace.” Lord Warden said.
“One must be bold if one aspires to protect that which one loves.” Cecilia replied calmly as she sipped the wine. Cecilia had cracked open a cask of Divonian Red, an expensive vintage imported from the far east.
“And how does one protect that which one loves?” Archmagus asked as he swirled his wine.
“With power of course. A farmer with no blade nor training cannot defend his family from bandits and a farmer stands no chance against a phoenix. An adventurer on the other hand is a different story.
This is the way of the world. The strong take the spoils and everyone else falls at their shoes.” Cecilia replied calmly.
“Indeed, this world obeys the rule of the strong. One can only be felled by an equal or superior.” the Lord Warden said.
“But can’t the strong be felled by lesser creatures through trickery?” the Archmagus added as he raised an eyebrow with a wry smile on his face.
“Strength comes in many forms, the mind for instance is a powerful source of strength. Cunning, wisdom and guile is as powerful as any blade. Wouldn’t you agree, Archmagus?” Cecilia asked with a smile.
“I would agree, your grace. Of course you must know this, seeing as we are speaking one mage to another.” the Archmagus replied as he raised his glass towards Cecilia.
Cecilia clinked her glass with his and gave him a graceful smile.
“Yes power comes in many forms… such power can come from some unexpected places or perhaps allies…” the Lord Warden said as he gave Cecilia a look.
“I am sure word has spread of my dear friend. He changes the game significantly for both Elysia and Voleria.” Cecilia said with a small smile.
“Yet we have not seen any sign of the Great Beast of the Elysian Woods. I have heard of whispers of the beast’s children roaming the streets and the countryside. Prepping fields, building structures and towing wagons.
Alas as I journeyed in your lands, I have not seen neither hide nor tail of the beasts.” the Archmagus said.
“One should play their cards carefully, the game is no fun when all hands are bare to see no?” Cecilia replied.
“Or perhaps you just didn’t want a particular person to see your hand? It is unwise to show your strength to an impending foe.” the Lord Warden said.
“Perhaps…” Cecilia replied with a smile as she took another sip of wine.
“So what are we, your grace? Friend? Or Foe?” the Archmagus asked.
Cecilia smiled at those words. All of these talks were just the Grand Game’s equivalent to the warfare strategy of sending scouts to probe enemy defences. Asking questions you already know the answers to just to see how the other responds. Reveal a card or two and gauge the reaction. Will it be a shock? Or perhaps just a knowing smile?
“My good Archmagus, we have just met. I only remember seeing your predecessor when I was a girl. Although your old compatriot Georgia Merci has told me many things about you.” Cecilia replied with a small laugh.
“Nothing too scandalous I hope?” the Archmagus said with a smile of his own.
“The things said are all very flattering, I assure you. I was actually wondering if you could give me some pointers.” Cecilia said as she waved her hand as her hand glowed and she conjured a rose out ice.
“Hmmm…” the Archmagus muttered as he stretched his hand out and adjusted Cecilia’s wrist slightly.
“Your wrist is stiff, don’t put too much tension there, it restricts the flow of ether.” the Archmagus said.
“I see, it is a bad habit I will admit.” Cecilia said with a chuckle as the rose vanished.
“I assume Georgia is talking to you about posture?” the Archmagus asked with a wry smile.
“Yes, I admit this is a point of frustration for her as a teacher.” Cecilia said with a small chuckle.
“Georgia was always a traditionalist. But in truth even if your form is slightly off, as long as your Ether flows well there is little issue. Can you show me your stance again?” the Archmagus asked and Cecilia held out her hand again.
Cecilia watched as the Archmagus pulled her hand outwards a little as he raised her elbow.
“There, traditionalists like to keep the arms close to the body because it protects the limbs. But in truth I feel if an assailant get’s right on top of you as a mage you are in deep trouble regardless.
So if you extend your arm more and relax your upper arm…” the Archmagus said as he placed a hand on her upper arm. Cecilia relaxed her bicep and she found her ether flowing more smoothly when she poured power into her hands.
“Ah… that is a lot easier.” Cecilia said with a smile,
“Remember this your grace, the old traditions are meant to teach the newer entrants of the arcane arts. But if you wish to be exceptional you must not be constrained what pre established rules and old ways, you must walk in no one’s shadow.” the Archmagus said as he conjured a rose bud in his hand out of ice. Watched as the rose bud slowly bloomed and grew in his hand.
Cecilia knew her own magic although powerful lacked precision. Her dear friend was even better than her in terms of precision, she could see it in how he moves objects across the room. Then again Flesh Crafting was a kind of magic that required extreme levels of precision, Cecilia tried it herself and she found herself without the fine control needed. But honestly Cecilia felt it was just something to do with the Firstborn, some races were more talented than others at magic and the Firstborn were the most talented at… well… everything…
“Walk in no one’s shadow, do not be bound by the old rules. Tell me Archmagus, are you tired of the old rules?” Cecilia asked nonchalantly.
“Very much so, stasis is death. I think we have been static for too long don’t you think?” the Archmagus replied.
“I couldn’t agree more…” Cecilia said as she cracked a wide smile as she drank a sip of wine.
“Alliances are hard to come by, trust even more so, especially in this grand game. Every gathering is filled with wicked eyes and wicked hearts. But I hope we can come to an agreement that would be mutually beneficial to all of us.” Cecilia said as she began moving to the heart of the issue.
“Yes I hope so too. As for the future, I hope we are of one mind on this.” the Archmagus replied.
“Are we Archmagus?” Cecilia asked as she raised a brow.
“I think perhaps we might be…” the Archmagus replied with a small smile.
It looks like Istland and the Wardens were open to reunification under Averlon. Istland just wants to continue doing their own thing and if the new ruler of Elysia is mage they are more likely to get better treatment and allowances. As for the Wardens they just wanted a reunified Elysia and if Cecilia proves she can provide a strong rule they will have no qualms with it. Once he gets a look at her dear friend he’ll sign right up, working with monsters is an Elysian staple afterall. Even if that tradition has eroded somewhat.
“I should speak with the other rulers, I look forward to the coming meeting.” Cecilia said with a respectful nod.
“As do we, your grace.” the Lord Warden said with a small bow. Now that bow was definitely a good sign…
Cecilia headed over to a gathering of the sovereigns of Cathay, Arune and Marina.
Cecilia had heard the report from Sarana, Marina had rolled poorly on the dice of leadership. The current king was a rather plump man with blonde hair, dark brown eyes and is a hot headed fool squandering his father’s past glory. Although his son showed more promise, House Marina may not have the luxury to await a new king seeing as King Edric is only in his late thirties and his son is barely a man at 16. She has heard a rather scandalous tale that he married a 16 year old girl when he was 18. Apparently the pair were smitten in their youth and he had accidentally put a child in her belly. So they were wed much earlier than usual. Officially you are an adult at 18 years of age but that rule can be bent if the situation requires. Cecilia has heard in the Valley of Plenty, the girls get married off when they are as young as 14.
As for Cathay, they are doing better with Queen Yatheria who although of average talent in the matters of war, was very capable in geopolitics and statecraft. One of her defining traits is that she understands her limitations very well. She was a woman with dark red hair that looked almost purple. She was in her late forties and Cecilia heard she was once quite beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful in the region. She had four children, an eldest son, a younger daughter and a pair of twin girls who were entering their teenage years.
Arune was ruled by King Leon, an aging man in his fifties with middling ability and an asperous constitution. He was often ridiculed for reaching too far and biting off more than he could chew, which wasn’t a lot to be fair. His son unfortunately had a meek disposition, with even less ability than his father, his other daughter was only 12 and showed more promise. But from what Sarana’s report said his son was the one being groomed for the throne.
Some rumors said the King always suffered from fertility issues, which would explain his shortage of children. Cecilia for instance had three siblings and her father was only in his forties with Cecilia being sired on her father’s wedding night. Well… she HAD four siblings and her father was in his fifties when he took that sword to the chest…
“I think you are ill prepared to hold the Elysian Gate, your grace.” the Queen Yatheria of Cathay said calmly to a very annoyed King Edric of Marina.
“Marina’s security is not in question. We hold the Elysian gate, that gate has held back the invaders for millenia.” King Edric said dismissively.
“We agreed to sit by as you waged your little war against Averlon and Averlin because we trusted you to hold that gate. Averlin was in decline and Averlon was obsessed with trade. You were the best candidate to hold the Elysian Gate. But now… I confess I am beginning to doubt that statement.” Queen Yatheria said calmly.
“Hmph and you are in a position to talk because you give us that pittance payment every year to maintain it?” King Edric challenged.
“Your military diminishes every season, as it stands, this is a dangerous arrangement…” King Leon added.
Cecilia smiled as she approached, typical of these three rivals to constantly throw barbs at each other.
“Greetings.” Cecilia said sweetly as she joined the conversation.
“Greetings, your grace. I still remember when you were as tall as my knee.” Queen Yatheria greeted with a gracious smile.
“Time flies, your grace.” Cecilia replied with a small laugh.
“Treasure your youth, age punishes more than any lash.” Queen Yatheria said with a small smile.
“Greeting, your grace. I see the Averlonian garden’s beauty has not diminished over the years.” King Leon said as he cast his gaze around at the beautiful garden. The garden was indeed beautiful, some say this garden is the most beautiful in the region.
However, in truth this was just a rather crude complement. Women are often called flowers afterall, it was just an indirect way for the King to compliment her beauty and the women of her house. It was true to an extent, house Averlon and Averlin often produced beautiful maidens. With their striking red hair, ruby red eyes and a porcelain like complexion, beautiful maidens were quite common in the sister houses. Which is fitting considering Averlon and Averlin were founded by a pair of beautiful twin sisters.
“We do take very good care of the flowers here, your grace. A beautiful flower is a source of pride for any garden, wouldn't you agree?” Cecilia replied with a smile as she shifted her gaze to Queen Yatheria, implying Cecilia thought she was beautiful.
In truth she was still quite beautiful which was rather impressive given her age, she has aged from a maiden to a proud matron. Older men would still find her desirable, that was for sure.
“Indeed your grace.” Queen Yatheria replied with a small laugh as she brought a hand to her mouth.
“I overheard your conversation… In truth I am also concerned about the state of the Elysian Gate.” Cecilia said airily. At those words King Edric’s face curled into a snarl, Cecilia knew from the start this conversation was going to be less civil…
Averlon and Marina have been… tense in relations for quite some time…
“Your forebearers were incapable of holding the gate, so obsessed you were in commerce.” King Edric retorted.
“Yes, my grandfather and father did like commerce and if I recall… so do you…” Cecilia replied with a small smile.
“Yes… I heard a little bird say you slowed military recruitment and you now have two new trade galleons sailing your waters.” Queen Yatheria added.
“And you think you would hold the gate better?” King Edric challenged.
“Oh heavens no, Cathay is too far from the border. My humble nation’s security relies on the grace of the Wardens of the West and the Custodians of Elysian Gate.” Queen Yaheria replied with a small laugh.
Cecilia’s smile widened slightly at those words. That choice of words was very specific, she said Custodians of the Elysian Gate, implying that she didn’t care who held the gate as long as the gate is held well… and judging by King Edric’s face that was getting more and more purple… he caught that insinuation as well…
“What are you implying, your grace?” King Edric replied as he seethed.
“Oh nothing, your grace.” Queen Yatheria replied with an airy laugh as she waved her hand as if to dispel a misunderstanding.
“I am just concerned, I am a mother after all. I heard the bandit prince likes to pluck flowers and I have two beautiful little twins, they will have their first blood in a few years. I would rather their first blood stain their undergarments and not that bandit prince’s sheets.” Queen Yatheria said as her tone grew slightly cold at the thought.
“Yes, I have a young daughter as well. I am also concerned on this matter, especially since I have heard that the wards are fading on the Elysian Gate.” King Leon added.
“Is that so? Well that is concerning news given the circumstances.” Queen Yatheria said as she cast her gaze to King Edric.
“In truth I have heard similar songs from my own little birds. That is why I have called all of you here. The heirs of Elysia need a new leader in the coming war, we cannot be divided when we face the storm to come.” Cecilia said calmly.
“And who will lead? A young queen like yourself? You are barely a woman, little queen. What do you know about war?” King Edric challenged.
“Very little, your grace.” Cecilia said with a smile as she locked her gaze with King Edric.
“But I know someone who does, someone who has seen war and conflict tear this world apart. Someone who has seen the wars that shattered empires. Someone who has lived longer than all of us combined, you can throw our fathers and mothers in as well. It would make a little difference to bridge the gulf.” Cecilia said with a smile.
“The Great Beast of the Elysian Woods. Awakened from his slumber in an ancient Elysian Vault if the songs of the birds hold true.” Queen Yatheria said.
“Yes. some young adventurers sought treasure and they found death instead.” King Leon said.
“You are both well informed.” Cecilia replied with a chuckle.
“Adventurers like to talk, your grace, they aren’t the subtle sort.” Queen Yatheria said with a small smile.
“But of course birds hang from many trees, I found a few crimson birds with a spider’s mark in my court after all.” Queen Yatheria said with a knowing smirk as she implied she found some of Sarana’s spies. Cecilia could tell she wasn’t upset, spies were everywhere that was just the way the game worked.
“Or perhaps they are just the birds the spider wants me to find…” Queen Yatheria said as she took a sip of wine.
“Knowing Lady Sarana, probably the ones she wanted you to find…” Cecilia replied with a light laugh.
“I suspected as much… but with such a capable spymaster, surely you must have heard some songs from the north? I hear the spider’s web stretches from sands of gold and past a narrow sea.” Queen Yatheria asked.
“Hmm…” Cecilia muttered as she took a sip of wine as if considering whether she should give her this little gift.
“Very well… as a gesture of good faith I will tell you this… the Bandit Prince found a particularly fair mage in his war against Tralis, he desired her so he made her tranquil. I also heard he now makes her crawl through the palace like a dog, naked as the day she was born as some sort of twisted jest when it pleases him.” Cecilia said softly as she took another sip of wine.
“Tch… Volerians…” King Leon muttered in disdain.
“That is… concerning news…” Queen Yatheria muttered as she took a deeper drink from her glass of wine.
Cecilia knew that Queen Yatheria’s first born daughter was a year older than Cecilia and studying to be a mage. She was decent, nothing exceptional but decent…
Also much more concerning, like her mother she was quite beautiful. As far as Cecilia has heard, the three beauties of Elysia were herself, Maria and Queen Yatheria’s daughter. As to which is the most beautiful? Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder… and some would want all three…
This was another ploy by Cecilia, with news like this Queen Yatheria would be more inclined to accept her claim to the region.
“Do you feel your… friend… can turn the tide?” Queen Yatheria asked.
“I know he can do much more than that, your grace.” Cecilia replied and Queen Yatheria paused thoughts running through her mind before she gave Cecilia a small nod.
Cecilia cast a look at King Edric of Marina and he was not happy to say the least…
Having Istland and the Wardens on her side was one thing but having Cathay as well was something else entirely. The very fact the Lord Warden and Istland went to speak with her first instead of recusing themselves was a statement in and of itself.
If Cathay signed with Averlon then Arune will have no choice but to sign as well. There is no way they can defend their territory when assailed from both sides. That would leave most of Elysia standing behind Cecilia and then Marina would have to bend to her will or be branded a secessionist and broken under her heel.
Honestly Cecilia hoped King Edric would just swallow his pride. Killing the soldiers and civilians of Marina is quite the waste. It would be like burning a petulant child’s room when the room is in your house…
Pretty bad plan overall she must admit…
“So you would truly bow to this young queen? She was the one who provoked the Tralis, if it wasn’t for her we would have more time to prepare.” King Edric said, his face now purple.
“Look at me, your grace, my very existence is a provocation.” Cecilia said as she gestured to her voluptuous body that was accentuated by the dress.
“I would rather Tralis charge in bullheaded rather than well planned and prepared.” Queen Yatheria replied calmly.
“Hmph… well I will say this… the line of House Marina will end before we bow to House Averlon.” King Edric spat.
Well that was blunt… Cecilia was honestly quite disappointed, she had hoped claims of his foul temper were just exaggerations. It seems her friend is right, reality is often disappointing…
“If you are so eager to depart the mortal coil… That can be arranged…” Cecilia heard a familiar feminine voice say.
She turned to see Legiana emerging from the castle as she turned the corner. The talons of her feet clinking on the stone below, the talons were retractable, she just extended them to make sounds on the stone. Makes her seem more ominous.
Legiana was handling something for the hive before this. It wasn’t a problem to be late, considering her dear friend was running his own little errand. He would return soon though…
The other rulers all stilled when they caught sight of her. In truth Cecilia felt she looked almost ethereal, with her collar of horn like structures extending out in intricate patterns. Her white body, and smooth domed head that extended backwards in this tail-like appendage. Her four arms, the larger upper arms folded behind her back while her lower arms were folded neatly in front of her. Her digitigrade feet moved lightly across the stone, as her hips swayed from the movement. But the swaying wasn’t in the erotic sense, it swayed just a little too far revealing the fact that it was just a symtpom of her bone structure. Adding to her almost otherworldly nature…
“Legiana… glad you could finally join us.” Cecilia said with a wide smile as she approached her. Cecilia could feel the gaze of everyone on her back.
Cecilia smiled as she took Legiana’s hand and Legiana gave them a squeeze with a smile. Although to Cecilia that smile didn’t bother her, she was aware others felt it was unnerving. Her friend and Legiana had no lips at least in the human sense. There was this bit of skin that covered parts of their teeth, so when they smiled the corner of their mouths just widened and curled upwards. Problem with this is that all this did was reveal more of their sharp serrated fangs.
“The children needed direction on some matters, I apologize for the delay.” Legiana said as she gestured towards the garden and the pair headed over.
Cecilia noted King Edric was looking more subdued. Nothing like a monster appearing to somber the mood and strip the false sense of security.
“You are filled with quite a bit of hot air, aren’t you…” Legiana said with a grin as she turned her domed head towards King Edric.
Cecilia saw the Archmagus and the Lord Warden were looking at Legiana with great interest. Queen Yatheria was looking at Legiana curiously as well, while King Leon of Arune was looking quite uncomfortable. Meanwhile King Edric was still looking… quite defiant.
“Are you the Great Beast of the Elysian Woods?” Queen Yatheria asked curiously.
“No, that is my king you speak of. I am but a lowly servant.” Legiana replied calmly.
“And this beast? It is what? Your pet?” King Edric asked with a clear edge in his voice.
Cecilia had to exercise quite a bit of self control there. Half of her wanted to roll her eyes, the other half wanted to twitch her eyebrow in annoyance. She HATED it when people thought her dear friend was her slave or pet. He had given her everything and he was her only friend. Outside of her family he was the only one she gave a damn about or was unwilling to sacrifice for anything.
As for rolling her eyes, King Edric must be really stubborn, really brave, really angry, or really STUPID… or perhaps… all of the above… ok perhaps not brave… but everything else…
“Careful, your grace, I have been here for quite some time. I believe you humans have a saying… try not the temper of the ancients.” Legiana replied.
“My friend is not a pet, he is an ally and a dear friend. For your own sake I suggest you treat him with the respect he is due. He has little qualms about killing humans that irritate him.” Cecilia said calmly.
“Ha, how do I know you aren’t bluffing, where is this beast?” King Edric scoffed.
At that moment a large shadow passed over the group. Cecilia felt a smile graced her lips, looks like her friend was back. He would land in that open area…
The other rulers were looking up in shock but of course her friend had already circled around and was getting ready to land. Knowing her friend he did that little shadow thing on purpose, he always did like a little theater…
“Come, it is time to meet my dear friend.” Cecilia said as she began walking to a particular area set out for her friend to land from his excursions. The people of the city have largely gotten used to a giant monster flying overhead every once in a while.
Cecilia could hear the other rulers following her. Despite their reservations, as rulers they still needed to know what was flying around in their backyard. Besides, even if her friend wanted them to die it’s not like they could out run him considering that he could fly.
Cecilia arrived at this open area with this circular marble raised platform above the grass. That used to be a pavilion but Cecilia tore it down to use the base as a landing area for her friend. This place already came with a stone path leading to the pavilion, so Cecilia just spruced it up a little and made the path wider for her friend.
Cecilia stood there facing the platform as she waited calmly. She could hear the rulers fidgeting as they looked up at the sky. Then she saw him dive out of the clouds, before flipping and flapping his great golden feathered wings to slow his descent. Then with a final graceful flap of his wings he landed.
But he wasn’t the only thing that came out of the clouds. Cecilia marveled as a flock of phoenixes followed her friend out of the clouds as they landed around him. Their feathers glinted in the sunlight. Ancient Elysia chose the colour Red because that was the limit of the Empire’s ability to tame Phoenixes. They could only tame the lowest class of Phoenix the Red Fire Phoenix.
Before her on the grass surrounding her friend, now stood a flock to eclipse Ancient Elysia. She counted six Red Fires, four Orange Fires, two Blue Fires and a single White Fire. Cecilia looked around and saw the phoenixes bow their majestic heads to her friend. Now if this wasn’t a show of power, Cecilia didn’t know what was…
“From the ashes…” Cecilia heard the Lord Warden mutter as he uttered the words of House Elysia. Cecilia smiled as she remembered the banner of House Elysia, with it’s Red Phoenix front and center.
She saw her friend smile as he waved one of his wings and the Phoenixes all obediently raised their heads.
Hey Cecilia, sorry I’m late…