Chapter 9: A Weapon to Pierce the Heavens
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Of golden eye

And a certain ire

The Bright Lord seeks new arms...

Tasked by the prince

The Sethir squire

Delves deep into an ancient harm…

Delphius stands in the castle's courtyard, his spear in hand, expertly striking at the training dummies. With each strike, the sound of wood splintering fills the air. As he removes the spear from one of the dummies, Maelaezel appears, holding a parchment in her hand. Delphius turns to her and bows slightly.

"My Lady," he greets her.

Maelaezel's eyes scan Delphius from head to toe, taking in his rippling muscles and his glistening skin. However, her gaze lingers on his weapon, a sorry-looking stick with a rusted steel tip. She scowls at the sight.

"That weapon of yours is disgusting, Delphius," she says. "It's unworthy of existing in my presence."

Delphius rolls his eyes, annoyed. "You could always conjure me another one," he suggests.

Maelaezel scoffs at the idea. "And have you sucking at my teat for the rest of eternity? I think not. Besides…"

Delphius turns back to the dummy, his frustration evident. Maelaezel tosses the parchment at him, which he catches in mid-air.

"The Kandendran Prince is offering something far more appealing," she says.

Delphius scans the document and throws it to the ground in protest. "You want me to recover some ancient family heirloom for a spoiled prince? I thought I was supposed to be training, not running errands for children."

Maelaezel's eyes flash with anger. "You little ingrate. The Fang of the Greatwyrm is a weapon of great renown. After you recover it, I don't care about the Prince, it'll be in your possession."

Delphius raises an eyebrow. "A Greatwyrm? And which wyrm does the weapon refer to? Surely not the one in the sky."

Maelaezel hesitates for a moment. "Well, I-"

"And I doubt some Eltian had the mettle to stand toe to toe with Leviathan and live," Delphius interrupts.

Maelaezel remains silent, unable to answer her vassals' retort.

Delphius speaks with arrogance, "So please, my Lady, tell me which Greatwyrm was felled so that this 'weapon of great renown' could be crafted?"

Maelaezel is taken aback that her own progeny would dare address her in such a manner. Her anger swells within her, and the ground beneath them begins to quake and tremble.

Realizing his mistake, Delphius lowers his weapon and attempts to soothe Maelaezel's rage.

"Come now, my Lady. There's no need to resort to our baser instincts," he says, trying to defuse the situation.

But it is too late. Without warning, Maelaezel rushes at Delphius, standing mere inches from his face. Cracks begin to form on her exterior, pouring out streams of light.

Delphius stands firm, closing his eyes and bracing himself for the inevitable punishment. After a few moments of unearthly silence, Delphius reopens his eyes and relaxes his body as he sees Maelaezel frowning at him.

"My Lady?" he asks, unsure of what to expect next.

Before he can say anything else, he is struck by a powerful blow to the head, sending him careening out of the courtyard and into the castle's moat.

"You better be drowning down there, Delphius," Maelaezel shouts after him. "I'd hate for you to come back alive still thinking you can address me in such an unsightly tone!"

Delphius resurfaces from the murky waters, gasping for air. He grabs onto some nearby reeds and pulls himself out of the moat, wiping his face clear of water before looking up at his disgruntled queen, who stands above him ready to unleash her fury once again.

"I will retrieve the weapon, My Lady," he says, determined to make amends.

Maelaezel's visage softens, and she returns to her calm smile. "Good boy. Now clean yourself up. We're heading to Kandendra in an hour."

With a flick of her wrist, she conjures a towel and throws it at Delphius's face with enough force to knock him down. He pulls the towel from his face and spits on the ground before muttering, "Good riddance..."

Delphius and Maelaezel are ascending the massive set of stairs that lead to the Kandendran castle at the top of the city-state. The castle is a sprawling, opulent fortress with turrets and spires that touch the clouds. Its main motif is reminiscent of that of a rattlesnake, with the brickwork being laid down in intricate spiraling patterns, much like the layout of the city itself. The duo is met with a sea of hateful and menacing stares as they push past a line of a thousand commoners, not paying any heed to the order of operations whatsoever.

As they step over bodies and navigate around carts piled high with rotting food, Delphius lets out a sigh of disgust. "I’ve always hated coming here," he mutters. "Too cramped, too smelly, too…grimy."

A commoner spits at Delphius’s feet, narrowly avoiding his ornate white and gold greaves. Delphius glares at the offending peasant, but before he can say anything, Maelaezel chides him. "Oh, hush. You must learn to accept these creatures for who they are. They cannot help that they were born without our power or grace. Such poor wretches as they are, they don’t need your admonishment as well."

Delphius looks at her in disbelief. "Accept them? They're nothing but filth and vermin."

Their path is soon blocked by a hulking man holding a goat in one arm. The giant stares down at the pair and points down to the bottom of the Kandendran steps.

"Bekov ‘e line," the giant grumbles.

Maelaezel leans in and whispers to Delphius, "What did he say?"

"I haven’t the slightest," Delphius whispers back.

"Excuse us," Maelaezel says as she attempts to step past the hulk, but he steps in her way again with a loud grunt. His hot breath assaults her nostrils, contorting her face into a look of pure disgust.

"Back. Of. ‘E. Line," the giant growls.

Delphius steps forward. "Excuse us, sir. We’re on urgent business for the Prince. I urge that you step aside before things get rather unpleasant."

"You ‘ighborns fink you can just get away wif cuttin’ in line just cuz yer in good wif the Prince?" the giant snarls.

Delphius and Maelaezel exchange an unknowing look and a shrug before he responds.

"Well, yes actually. That does appear to be the case in most places," Delphius replies.

"I’m goin ta pound you inta dust, little man!" the giant bellows before setting down his goat and cracking his knuckles.

Maelaezel sighs. "Make this quick, Delphius. We’re going to be late."

Delphius nods. "As you wish, my Lady."

The giant swings wildly at Delphius, who lightly deflects the punch before placing a fist gently on the giant's chest. A wave of energy ripples through the giant's torso, tearing a perfectly circular hole through his chest. The crowd unleashes a collective gasp as the man's body crashes to the ground, lifeless.

Maelaezel casually steps over the corpse, continuing up the seemingly unending staircase as Delphius blows the steam off his glove before doing the same. "Now remember, courtesy is of the utmost importance. We want to make an ally of the Prince and his people," Maelaezel reminds him.

"Yes, my Lady," Delphius replies, as the two reach the top of the enormous staircase.

Delphius and Maelaezel step into the grand hall of Kandendra's castle, their footsteps echoing through the spacious chamber. Scattered about the hall are large chunks of brick and debris, alluding to the natural light peeking in from the castle's immeasurably high ceiling. The structure is supported by towering marble columns, each intricately carved with a scene of an Eltian man facing down a large serpent. Cracked walls are adorned with fading illustrations depicting fierce battles and noble deeds of old. 

As they approach the throne, the prince sits regally upon it, his decorative military garments shimmering in the light filtering through the stained glass windows. He sips his wine from a chalice encrusted with precious gems, the liquid inside a deep ruby red.

The prince's attendant rushes forward to greet them, his demeanor deferential as he takes Maelaezel's hand in his own. Delphius tenses at the gesture, but Maelaezel's calming touch soothes him.

The attendant bows deeply and addresses them. "My Lady, Sir, allow me to introduce Prince Lemuaile of Kandendra!"

A fanfare of horns resounds through the hall as the attendant leads them to the throne. "Prince Lemuaile, allow me to introduce Lady Maelaezel and her knight."

Maelaezel gives a small curtsy and a smile, but the prince remains aloof, his eyes fixed on his wine. The attendant shifts nervously, waiting for some reaction.

Maelaezel nudges Delphius, whispering urgently. "You're supposed to bow."

Delphius whispers back, incredulous. "Before a literal child?"

Maelaezel's eyes narrow in warning. "So help me Delphius…"

Delphius relents, bowing low before the prince. The prince finishes his drink and hands his chalice to his attendant, clearing his throat.

"So this is the rabble who's going to retrieve my grandfather's spear?" he scoffs. "I didn't know they made people this pale. Are you from Aldria or something?"

The young prince chuckles at his own remark before the attendant interjects. "Actually, my Lord, Maelaezel is the owner of the beautiful marble estate just outside of the territory."

The prince nods. "Oh, I see. So what interest do a couple of highborn have in delving into some musty old crypt to get some fancy stick? Shouldn't you be hosting a gala or something?"

The prince’s laughter is cut short as Maelaezel steps forward, her voice firm. "Well, you see, Prince Lemuaile, my knight, Delphius here, is in need of practical combat experience if he is to properly protect his mistress. I figured this would be a good way for him to do that."

She notices Delphius's angry stare out of the corner of her eye and returns a snide smile. "Besides, I'm sure the reward for such a priceless artifact is bringing in all sorts of attention."

The attendant speaks up again. "Less than you might think, my Lady. Most of Kandendra's citizens are quite wary of the catacombs. The prince was forced to call in some...outside help to assist with the weapon's recovery."

Delphius mutters under his breath. "Mercenaries..."

Maelaezel ignores him, addressing the attendant. "So what kind of reward can we expect for retrieving the weapon?"

The attendant replies with a hint of reverence in his voice. "Why, whatever you'd like, my Lady! The Fang is an heirloom of incredible value. I'm sure the prince and the rest of the royal family would like to see it returned at any cost."

The prince's attention is finally caught. "Mm, yes. Any cost."

Maelaezel nods. "Very good. We shall return with the weapon post haste."

"Excellent," replies the attendant. "The Prince’s team will be awaiting you and your Knight at the entrance of the catacombs. Please allow me to escort-"

But Maelaezel interrupts him, raising her hand in protest. "I assure you, Delphius can manage to find his way on his own. I shall remain here in the castle sipping wine with the royal family."

The attendant bows, flustered. "O- of course, my Lady. Please, right this way."

He gestures for Maelaezel to follow him down an ornate hallway, lined with tapestries and lit by flickering torches. As she walks away, she shoos Delphius off with a wave of her hand.

“Please forgive the mess, my Lady. The earth has been rather… unkind to us as of late”. The attendant's voice trails off into the distance as Delphius watches his charge disappear down the castle’s halls. Knowing better than to try and argue with Maelaezel, he turns and starts toward the castle's entrance, his hands balled in anger.

Delphius begins his trek down the winding stairs of Kandendra. His natural air of nobility contrasts sharply with the drab and dingy commoners and their nefarious gazes.

As he approaches the site of their earlier scuffle, his path is impeded by two guards struggling to lift up the man’s corpse into a wheelbarrow. Delphius attempts to make his way around the site, but before he can continue on his way, an elderly woman with the giant man’s goat points a gnarled finger at him.

"It was him! He’s the one that killed poor Elrondir! Guards, arrest him this instant!" she declares, her voice shaking with anger.

The guards turn away from the body and turn toward Delphius. Sword and spear at the ready, the size up the chiseled highborn figure adorned in white and gold before them. Faced down with his unflinching gaze, the guards turn away from Delphius and return to their original task, allowing the warrior to proceed down the Kandendran steps as the crowd erupts into a cacophony of ‘boos’ and jeers aimed at the two guardsmen.

As Delphius approaches the entrance to the catacombs, the Prince’s mercenary team finally makes themselves known. A group of 4 gruff-looking Eltian men stands in front of the entrance to the dungeon, their weapons at the ready as the stranger approaches. However, they are calmed by a voice hidden within the group.

"Steel yourselves men, I believe this one is under our sweet Prince’s employ," the voice says, and the group fans out to reveal their leader.

Tomi, a pale man boasting a mere five feet tall, sits on the filth-covered street, his face mostly covered by a straw woven hat, smoking out of a pipe made of ivory. As he stands, a menagerie of red and white tails peek out from his backside. He tilts his hat upward to reveal a set of canid eyes: the right one red, and the left one blue.

"The name’s Tomi, and this merry band of men and I are at your service," he declares, outstretching his hand, covered in grime, toward Delphius, who rebuffs the advance.

"Anamalis?" Delphius questions.

"Kytsune, actually. Thank you for noticing," Tomi responds.

Delphius scoffs. "Hmph. So this is who the Prince had in mind. No royal guard to fetch his precious trinkets?"

"Haven’t you heard, Highborn? The Kandendran citizenry won’t go anywhere near the site out of fear of being devoured by the fabled Greatwyrm," Tomi replies with a smirk, and his mercenaries let out a series of chuckles.

But Delphius's face remains stoic. "You can’t be serious. Surely not the whole territory is superstitious?"

Tomi signals his men to get ready. As they commence their final gear checks, Tomi opens the iron-wrought gate leading down into a dimly lit staircase. "I think you’d be surprised as to what horrors remain in this world," he warns as he begins his descent.

As if to punctuate his point, the ground beneath Delphius's feet begins to tremble. A brief but violent quake threatens to destabilize the Sethirian who watches with a tinge of jealousy as the Kytsune bounds effortlessly down the weathered staircase. 

As the tremor subsides, he dusts the rubble from a nearby hutch from his pauldrons and takes one final look up toward the castle. Raising a hand up to shield his eyes from the sun, flying effortlessly above the clouds, he scoffs, before turning into the stairwell and slamming the gate closed behind him.