The Reaper has ruled over Etias due to the longevity he has achieved through necromancy.
| At dawn the following morning, the siblings stood side by side. Both appeared exhausted, dark circles embedded under their eyes. Bleiz let out a loud yawn as he stretched, ruffling his hair as he did. He cracked open an eye to spot the Prince and the Knight move in their general direction. Trailing behind them was the palace-woman Aneira leading a horse for each of them.
"Greetings," said Casimir as he gave them a polite bow.
"Let's get this trip over as fast as possible," interrupted Keogh as he brushed past his knight to take his black stallion. There was something otherworldly about this horse, from its sleek black coat and beady red eyes.
Melina wasn't sure, but it appeared as if this steed had fangs. Keogh hoisted himself onto the horse who stood obediently for him. Bleiz glowered at the rude Prince, but he said nothing. The rest of the group clambered up onto their own steeds, and soon they were off down the road at great speed.
It took two ten-day before the companions arrived in E'athkadi. The entire town appeared barren, save for the few dozen townsfolk who remained in the scattered structures surrounding the area. Down the road stood a castle-like structure that was half buried due to the mounting piles of snow and ice. Four oversized, square towers surrounded the composition in a perfect circle with connecting tall, thin walls made of granite. Dull windows scattered around the walls along with small holes for archers and artillery. There didn't appear to be any bowmen or ballista of any kind at the ready for the building's defense.
Casimir's white fur cloak rustled around his face. He wore a cloth mask on the lower half of his face to further shield him from the icy bite of the flurries. He pointed to the castle-structure with a thickly gloved hand.
"There," he said, his voice muffled from both the material covering his mouth and the howling wind, "The Astral Athenaeum."
"Why couldn't the library have been on a tropical island somewhere?" Melina spoke as she shivered, her brown hair hidden underneath her thick fur hood.
"What security are we looking at?" Prince Keogh addressed Casimir, wearing a furred black cloak, with a scarf wrapped around the bottom half of his face, "I fully intend on knocking those walls down if they do not cooperate."
Casimir raised a hand as he shook his head, turning to look at Keogh, although only his own gray eyes were visible through his hood, "I want to approach this without hostility, if possible. We'll speak with the Archsage of the library first. If he doesn't agree to help us, we will need to use force. We don't want to appear as if the throne only ever uses an iron fist."
He turned to the other three to follow him, Melina and Bleiz walking a few steps behind him as they warily stepped through the snow which had piled up to their shins.
"Hey, remember when we were kids, and I would shove you into snowbanks about this high?" said Bleiz to Melina as he walked behind her.
"Yes, and if you do that now, I'll smother you in this stuff," she added, watching her steps through the thick substance.
The companions passed through the first gate without hindrance, entering an open circular courtyard. A loud voice suddenly barked at them all,
Casimir turned his eyes forward to see a tall mean-looking snow elf standing in front of the double oak doors that led into the Astral Library. The elf glared down his long slender nose at Casimir with disdain.
"Who are you to be entering our library?" he asked in a melodic but stern voice.
The raven-haired Prince stepped forward. He extended a hand, the palm emitting a purple aura, and from it blossomed a considerable scythe.
The weapon itself towered him about two feet; its sizable, curved, smooth blade crafted of titanium. The edge attached at the top of a long unadorned shaft made of obsidian. There was a constant shifting of swirling mist inside the pole, as if the weapon incarcerated the souls the Reaper took within it.
Keogh's long fingers wrapped around the great scythe the instant it materialized. Melina couldn't help but stare at the thing, as this had been the first time she had seen the scythe herself. It was both beautiful and haunting.
"I am Prince Keogh, the only rightful heir to the Throne of the Reaper. I am here with my allies behind me." Keogh called out, eyes narrowed and fierce, "We mean you no harm. I want to speak to the Archsage."
The elf gave a haughty scoff at this, waving a long elegant hand at the Prince.
"The Throne has no business with the Archsage. Leave. Now."
Casimir stepped forward, his hand on the hilt of his weapon, his eyes narrowing dangerously at the elf for his cynicism.
"Do not speak to His Highness in that tone, or I shall cut your tongue from your mouth!" Casimir warned.
Keogh scowled, calling back to the elf, "Under normal circumstances, we would never associate with the likes of you. But the dragons have been rebelling all across Etias. It will involve you and your people. I must see the Sage!"
The elf opened his mouth as if he was about to give another snarky remark, but another melodic voice spoke over him,
"That is enough, Orist."
The elf turned to see another older snow elf step beside him. The second elf appeared much calmer and content than his younger counterpart. His long white hair framed his elegant elf features, even with his advanced age. His robes represented his high rank as Archsage.
"I am Archsage Ivsaar. Welcome to my library," he said with a bow.
With a sigh, Keogh responded to the sage, "Thank you for your kind welcome. May we enter? My human tagalongs aren't accustomed to this weather."
Ivsaar turned with a nod of his head, gesturing for the group to follow him. The double doors opened before him as he stepped inside the stone walls. The moment everyone was inside, the opening closed again to shut out the cold. Ivsaar turned to them in the center of a circular room. Huge windows were on the opposite side on the wall, allowing them a view of the vast snowy wasteland beyond the library.
"Now, you spoke of the dragons rebelling against the other races of Etias? I thought they had struck a deal in the Black Moon Concordant?" said Ivsaar.
"They were still for centuries, content in guarding their hoards of treasure. But something made them rise from their sleep," said the Prince, his scythe still clasped in his hand.
"Hm... Interesting. Come, we will speak privately in my study."
Ivsaar turned to a flight of stairs that went upwards to the second floor. Keogh turned to Bleiz, Melina and Aneira.
"You all stay here. This is not information you need," commanded the Prince with a condescending tone. Melina growled under her breath. This Prince's attitude irritated her. Ivsaar glimpsed at them over his shoulder.
"My library is open for you all the view. You may conduct your own research during our meeting. My apprentice Vadik will aide you."
Ivsaar lifted a hand, indicating with a long finger for a young wood elf male around Bleiz's age to come forward, which he did. He had blonde hair and green eyes. He was shorter than average height for a man although he carried himself pompously.
"This is my apprentice, Vadik," explain Ivsaar as the elf male gave a bow. As he lifted his head, his eyes caught Melina's, and there was an instant flash of recognition followed by a wide grin. Melina’s eyes reflected the sudden realization, but her expression did not show the same joy at the sight of Vadik.
"Oh no," she groaned, slumping back behind her brother, "Not him again..."
"Hm?" Aneira's eyebrows rose, looking back and forth between Vadik and Melina, "Is he a previous lover of yours?"
"No," Melina mumbled, avoiding eye contact with the blonde man, "he is a man who won't give up."
Keogh nodded, waving at the three for them to go along, "All right hurry it up, humans. We don't have all eternity, you know."
Melina scoffed, wanting to say something, but Casimir threw her a warning look. With an angry frown, she turned to shed her heavy cloak off before starting the research process.
The group dispersed in the library, pulling out several massive tomes and scrolls that vaguely discussed the Black Moon Concordant and the dragons. Melina stood in one of the book aisle's, a book in hand as she flipped through the old parchment pages, her eyes scanning the sheets when she could feel a pair of eyes on her. Melina lifted her gaze upwards ahead of her, by that time knowing who it was. In a whirling motion, she was flung around one-eighty degrees as the book had dropped from her hands, Vadik quickly planting kisses on the back of her hand and arm,
"My beautiful starlight! I have found you again!" he cried between kissing her hand. With her free hand, Melina grabbed another volume behind her head from the shelf and swung it down to send it colliding with the young man's head, knocking him flat to the floor. Melina's face twisted with complete irritation.
"I swear, you are the worst pest I have ever had the misfortune to meet.... you won't go away!" she shouted for everyone else in the library to hear. Vadik rubbed the large lump growing on his head as he pushed himself back to his feet.
"I may not be in your heart now, my Starlight, but I know how to win my rightful place there yet."
Melina scoffed at this, rolling her blue eyes. The audacity of this man!
"Oh yeah? With what? Another parade in my honor?" she sneered as she turned to walk away from him. He admired her backside before he spoke a single word,
It was like someone stopped Melina in her tracks in mid-stride. Even the name caught Bleiz's attention, poking his head around the corner to note the couple. Melina stood silent for a long time before she slowly glared back at Vadik over her shoulder.
"What did you say?" she mumbled.
"You heard me," said Vadik.
Aneira didn't catch that, though, at least the meaning behind its importance. She studied Vadik, waiting for him, or somebody, to elaborate.
Melina turned to face him now, her arms folded over her chest, "How do you have it?"
"A little birdie told me you lost it," said Vadik, mirroring her movements by folding his arms.
"How could you possibly...? No, I don't care to find out how you knew that. Return the bow," Melina said, extending her hand.
"Ah, ah," said Vadik, wagging a disapproving finger at her. That digit lifted, creating a thin magical line in the air. The two-dimensional contour turned into a mist, which became the solid form of a gleaming black bow and quiver.
It was a highly polished reflex bow constructed of rare blackwood. Its string was from superior silk, a unique material around these parts of the world. Glowing thread decorated its limbs and ended in long points shaped like blades. Onyx wrapped its handle and adorned with symbolic writing and small gleaming rubies.
The black quiver was created from thick leather and designed to be around the archer's back. The outer side adorned red silk ribbons - an added personal touch of Melina's.
"Aicanáro the Soul Scorcher," Vadik announced its full title, holding the bow up for not only Melina to see but for Aneira and Bleiz as well, "My lady Melina's most prized possession. During this time of turmoil, she needs it now more than ever."
Melina glared at the blonde elf, "So give it back."
"Oh, I'll give it back... after you give me one romantic night."
"Very well," said Vadik with a shrug, turning away with the bow.
"W-wait," blurted Melina as she took a step, her eyes locked on the great weapon.
Aneira scoffed and stepped forward, putting a hand on Melina's shoulder, "Don't negotiate with this idiot. He asked you to prostitute yourself for a bow and quiver." She looked at the man with a scowl, "You've more respect for her than that. If it belongs to her, give it back."
Vadik raised a thin eyebrow at Aneira, "Respect? I'm enamored by her beauty; my feelings of lust go beyond all sense of rational thought. But respect? No. She is but a woman, just as you are. All that matters is what I want. And what I want is her. Do you understand?"
Bleiz chuckled, shaking his head as he leaned against the library shelf, "You're a bastard, you know that?"
"Shut your mouth, barbarian!" Vadik barked at him.
Aneira's jaw dropped as Vadik revealed his complete disregard for women. Not that she hadn't heard such things. She was a woman and knew what it was like for women in these days, but his blatant audacity to say it out loud and in front of Melina's brother struck her.
"Give it back to her," Aneira demanded as she took a step forward.
Bleiz studied his sister, waiting for what she would do. Vadik smiled at Aneira.
"No. She knows what she needs—"
Before he could finish his sentence, a fist came flying into Vadik's nose, splattering it flat into his face. His eyes rolled back as he tumbled backward, dropping both the bow and quiver to the ground. Melina stood over his crumpled form, shaking her bruising knuckles.
"Maybe next time you'll heed my warning?" she growled before reaching down to scoop up the onyx bow and quiver.
Bleiz grinned widely and clapped, "That's my girl!"
Aneira watched with big eyes when Vadik hit the floor, hoping to gods that this wouldn't get them into trouble. It didn't seem likely, though, since the Prince was on their side, and Ivsaar appeared to carry himself with honor. She approached Melina, smiling at her.
"Let's not leave you hurt over that prize over there." She opened a small pouch strapped to the side of her waist, taking out a small vial filled with translucent ointment. "That'll ease the bruising."
Melina nodded her head, lifting her bruised hand for Aneira to apply the salve. Bleiz walked over to grab the unconscious man roughly by the collar, hoisting him up and throwing him over one shoulder.
"In the meantime, I'll go put him in the barracks somewhere. He'll come to, and they'll fix his face. Just blame me if he gets upset about it."
Bleiz gave a grin before he disappeared with the elf. Melina meanwhile had sat the quiver on a nearby table and was carefully examining the bow, running her fingers tenderly over the intricate designs carved into the wood.
"Where did you get it?" Aneira said as she gazed at the magnificent weapon.
Melina pulled the string taught as she held the bow up, readying no arrows.
"I stole it from a bandit leader," Melina said, "I saved my brother and took the bow at the same time."
"Oh. Well, it's beautiful. Although, how did Vadik steal it from you?"
"He didn't," Melina said as she sat the bow back down to look at Aneira, "I lost it back in the fight against the dragon in Silentforest. How Vadik got his hands on it, I'm not sure."
She lifted the quiver and bow onto her back before she paused, looking down at one page of a book that was half hidden under other pieces of paper. Vadik had been shuffling through these books and papers right before he harassed her. Melina pushed the documents to the side to get a better view of the text, her finger sliding across the page as her eyes scanned.
"Did you find something?" Aneira asked, walking over to where she was reading it, "I hope so because we could well be stuck here for a long time."
Melina gave a small shrug, "I'm not sure if it's a direct clue," she pointed to the text she was referring to, "Selirius... An abandoned city up in the western mountains. It mentions something about it being the old home of the dragon king Xarsunon."
Aneira read it over several times, eyes heavy as she focused, "Xarsunon... That name sounds familiar."
Melina chewed on her bottom lip as she picked up the book, "Let's go find Ivsaar. Maybe he can explain this more."
The women met up with Bleiz as they tracked down Ivsaar, who was speaking with Keogh and Casimir about military strategy all over the world.
"Ah, I see you found something... where is Vadik?" Ivsaar noted.
"He's still researching downstairs," Bleiz answered. Ivsaar studied the ranger for a moment before he turned his attention back to the text. He set the book down on the table in front of Keogh and Casimir.
"This talks of Xarsunon the 'Destroyer of Man.'"
"Who is Xarsunon?" Keogh asked eyes narrowed in concentration. His expression reflected true concern. Ivsaar thought for a moment before looking at Keogh.
"Xarsunon is a darastrix-anatar, otherwise known as a dragon lich. He was the King before the Reaper," he explained. Keogh scowled at this new information.
"What?" he said, shaking his head, "This was never told to me. A dragon lich? How is that possible?"
"What is a lich?" Melina asked.
"A lich is a powerful undead being that has separated his soul from his body to achieve immortality," said Ivsaar as his light eyes directed towards the human. "The Reaper himself is a lich, although he is not evil. Most liches do not come out that way," he folded his slender hands neatly in front of him, the long sleeves of his robes embellished with stars. "Xarsunon can travel through the material realm and the spirit realm just as the Reaper. He feeds off souls to gain power. I do not know where he has been hiding all these years. I had always assumed someone destroyed him before they had drafted the Black Moon Concordant."
"Damn it," Keogh cursed through clenched teeth. The Prince looked at all the others, "If he was the former Reaper, I would take a guess it relates him to the recent dragon attacks," He turned back to Ivsaar. "What do we do?"
"You have to attack the source, meaning you need to focus on Xarsunon alone," Ivsaar said.
Keogh ran his nimble fingers through his hair, somewhat frustrated.
"So many pieces to this puzzle. We don't have the time to be solving riddles," he sighed, looking up at the sage, "Then, by any chance, do you know where we should go next?"
"Unfortunately, I do not know. I can offer you the limited amount of literature I have on Xarsunon and his army, but most of their information was lost with time."
"Gods be damned! Now we sit around and read. We don't have time for this; we need answers now!" Keogh snarled, pacing around the room.
"Our future King," whispered Bleiz to Melina, the girl having to hide her snort of laughter.
"That text mentioned an ancient city named Selirius?" Aneira questioned as she nodded to the book in Ivsaar's arms. The sage looked down to scan its contents before he nodded.
"Yes, it mentions Selirius. Although it notes nothing specifically, I suppose it would be worth an investigation. I must warn you, it could be dangerous."
"That's a risk we will have to take," Keogh said as he pulled the hood of his cloak back up. "We shall leave for Selirius now. Thank you, Ivsaar."