This is a fantasy story, containing a love story between two women (who also happen to have sex). If you don't like that sort of thing, which would be silly, `cause like... why the hell are you here and all... but, uh... if you don't like that kind of thing, you'd best look elsewhere. For those who don't fit into that category, read on and tell me what you think! ^_^
The Legend of Allyn Arceneaux
It had been professed to me many a time that the Northern Silesian Highlands were, without a shadow of a doubt, the coldest of all the territories of the Empire. I had been warned (I recalled) back at the Yellow Lion traveller's outpost, of the dangers of travelling in such a climate. I cared not to listen to them. This was mainly a result of my own gross pigheadedness... in retrospect. Though I care to admit that I took no pleasure in their jovial laughter at my situation. "T'ain't no place for a woman!" they had all joked to themselves.
I was not bitter however.
Those men were all Rorkian after all. Rork was a merchant city and as such attracted only three types of men; the oily merchants who fed off of the newly created trade routes with the southern continent; the incipient soldiers of the Imperial Army who were too stupid to differentiate between a rebel and upstart; and finally the greasy sailors and fishermen who made their living through the Rorkian harbour. Coarse and boorish they all were and eloquent they were not. So it took me by little surprise that their understanding of my capabilities rested on their consciousness of my existence as a women. They had no clue about the changing attitudes of man toward woman in this world.
And it was that political climate, the radically shifting perception of women, that had brought me to the Northern Silesian Highlands. I knew my calling and I knew that I had a responsibility to help pioneer the new cause; the betterment and the empowerment of my gender.
That was why I now trudged through endless mounds of cold white snow, heavy winds lashing at my face, the chill of the air biting into my very bones. I could not move quickly and I dared not to. I merely left a long trail of footsteps behind me which led all the way back to the village of Kul'Kut. I looked back. Darkness had settled on this mountain trail and so the village was illuminated by its numerous torches and lanterns. I was half-certain that I should succumb to my fears of this place and turn back to the warmth of the village. But my faith in the cause, the will of empowerment, kept me strong. But not merely that. My curiosity of the situation, of the woman, and of the legend, helped keep me steadfast.
You see I was like hundreds of other female scholars in the Empire. We all wanted to dredge up some kind of hidden mysteries in the archives of our world that was related to a woman. We wanted figures of the past, examples of outstanding and noble girls who made exceptional contributions to the Empire each in their own way. It was a race also. Everybody wanted to be the one to discover the definitive heroine of our past and make that person the mascot of our endeavours. There was glory involved in this. I could not deny it. There was one historical name however, that all the female scholars knew of, and yet of them, I appeared to be the only one brave enough to pursue its legacy.
The name was Allyn Arceneaux.
She was a woman like none other. Many people, man and woman alike, revile her as a deceiver and a blasphemer. The very mention of her name inspires a sense of `being lied to'. This was most surprising to me, when I learned of her. Especially since she had been executed sixty-seven ago. Much had changed since her time, the year 203 C.E., but her status as one of the most controversial soldiers in the Imperial Army was unchallenged. I held no illusions about why, however. For she had broken one of the most sacred and iron-clad taboos of our world. A taboo that symbolized the oppression of my gender in no uncertain terms. Allyn Arceneaux was the woman who dared to join the ranks of the elite infantrymen of the Imperial Army. She was the only female Angel Knight in the history of this world.
When I learned of her story back at Freikdebard University, I was, I admit, very curious. It was not a ballad for the bards and the minstrels to sing of, despite of its infamy. It was an untouchable existence that for some reason would not fully bury itself in the archives. And I dared to believe that there was more to it. I dared to believe that history has lied to me and all others. That was the drive that brought me to this Goddess-forsaken mountain. I want to know the truth about Allyn Arceneaux.
It was for that reason that I said goodbye to all my friends at the university, journeyed to Sparda, the main harbour of the northeast territories of the Empire, sailed across the Eastern Sea and reached the legendary merchant city of Rork. It was from there that I proceeded northward until I beheld Kul'Kut and the Northern Silesian Highlands. And here I was now.
I continued on up the long and winding mountain road, ascending slowly through the snow and winds. Each trudging footstep of my woollen boots was a chore but I refused to turn away. I continued on and eventually I came upon something, half obscured by a snow drift. I crouched down, my breath visible in the chill, and wiped some of the snow off of it with my gloved hands. It was an idol. An idol of a six-armed overweight elderly male that was distinctly phallic-shaped. My historical studies had made me quite well informed about the culture of the northernlanders. This idol was of Gaelduk, their deity of travel and good-fortune. It was a remnant of their barbarian past, this idolatry. When they lost the war one of the first things the Empire smashed was their hocus-pocus polytheistic pseudo-religion. Still this statuette was useful. The villagers had told me that a statue of Gaelduk could be found at the summit of the mountain. And from the information I had gathered, that was where I could find the one person who could tell me the truth about Allyn Arceneaux.
I stared around the clearing and saw, no more than four hundred paces from me, a broken-down, rotting wood and stone dwelling. It stood quite impotently amid the snow beside the boarding of an empty stable and a stone well in which the water was no doubt frozen over by now. This had to be the place.
I calmed myself, knowing that what I had travelled five months for would soon be at hand, and trekked over to the shack in gradual steps. I knocked on the door when I got to it. There was no reply. And so I knocked again. Yet still there was no reply. My determination prevented me from showing my back to this place however. Despite the rudeness of it, I pushed the door open anyway and entered.
"Hello...? Is anyone here?" I declared.
As I shut the door behind me the howling winds of the mountain became distant. I felt an quick warmth even though my surroundings were quite ghastly. The wooden sections of the walls of this shack were beaten and withered. The floorboards beneath my feet creaked and moaned when my boots trod on them. The low-hanging ceiling was covered with cobwebs and moth sacs. And it contained little more than a beaten-down oaken table, two old chairs and a fireplace. But the flame within that fire place was lit and roaring. Someone was most definitely here.
"...Hello...?" I said again.
Then I heard the creak of a door to my right as it opened. I turned on my heels. A stooping and feeble elderly woman, who must of been more than eighty years of age, came through the door. Her aging body was concealed by a torn, moth-eaten brown dress and her form held upright only by the presence of her equally old wooden walking stick. The wrinkled flesh framing her eyes thinned out as she peered with great care at me.
"...Who are you?" Her dusky voice scraped out.
"Please pardon my intrusion," I remarked to her with a bow. "My name is Aurore Nilst. I am a historical researcher from Freikdebard University."
She paused a moment, her face expressionless, before her crinkled thin lips curved into a smile. I knew that smile. It was a smile of bitterness. "...You are an... alumni of Freikdebard University?"
I knew what she was thinking. If she was the woman I was looking for then it was highly likely for her to feel something of an uneasiness around me. After all, she too was infamous, the `betrayer' and the `rogue' nestled in the heart of the legend of Allyn Arceneaux. So I nodded in earnest to her question. I watched her bitter smile rise and fall accordingly.
But I had to ask, "...Are you... the woman known as Leena Bacon?"
"...Bacon...?" She hissed with a shaky snap. "...Bacon... is my maiden name..."
I knew it was her. Even though she hadn't expressed it formally, I knew from that comment that she was the one I had been searching for. "I understand. Of course you wouldn't wish to be called that. Believe me when I say I have no intention to offend you. The truth of the matter is... I wish to know the facts behind the tale of Allyn Arceneaux. I want to cut away the horrid rhetoric that surrounds her and expose the reality of her life."
Leena beamed quite grimly once more. "...So you wish to know the truth about her...? Fie. You know not even her name."
"What does that mean?" I questioned.
Her iron-strong gaze pierced into me. "What is it you wish to know of her? What possible purpose could you have; you who dwell with snakes and the blacker of names and loves and histories?"
She was very uncommon, this woman. And hearty. Few people spoke so harshly of us scholars back home. We are respected as fonts of knowledge and truth, those who stood by law and fostered its hopes. But I knew what to expect from her. I did not shrink from her callous remarks. I would not allow myself to. What I am doing will help her, even if she does not know it herself yet.
"This world is changing," I professed to her. "Since the ascension of Emperor Willendorff III to the throne, the Elcourvian Empire has undergone numerous restructures. It is by no means nebulous... but it has ushered in the freedoms of numerous peoples of all kinds, it has struck new trading partnerships with the southern continent, and it has all but uprooted barbarian savagery and idolatry in the north. But there is one resolve left to be made in this cultural revolution. The place of women in it. I am one of a group of historical scholars who are looking back at exceptional women of times past. I want to change Allyn Arceneaux's place in the annuls of history from one of a war criminal to that of a saint. A courageous noble. Please allow me to do that. Please tell me the truth about her so that I may tell those very same truths to the world."
The aging woman stared at me with hardness yet again. When she said nothing immediately I began to doubt that she might offer me some light on the subject of Allyn. But that proved false. She tapped her walking stick to the ground and turned on her small sandaled feet, to the back room she'd appeared from, saying to me, "Follow along, young one."
And so I did. She led me to a neighbouring room. I found myself quite astounded when my eyes verged on its contents. Mounted on the wall were two items I had only seen in illustrations previously. It was the sword and armour of the legendary Angel Knight herself. I stepped with un-calm composure toward them and let my fingers travels over the breastplate of the armour. It was of a silver and gold finish and had the symbol of the Goddess carved into it, that of the crucifix. Across from the armour was Allyn's sword, a once magnificent claymore that had been named `Illudia'. Both items were rusted over now, but that did nothing to take away their beauty in my eyes.
"These artefacts are most spectacular!" I remarked, more to myself than to Leena. "However it seems the artist's depiction of them in the text books possesses a few errors. I had absolutely no idea that Illudia's pommel was bejewelled -- that is a symbol of military prestige if I am not mistaken. And its grip is made from dragon's hide... that is also quite uncommon..."
Though I was oblivious to it at the time, Leena eyed me surreptitiously as I made my absent-minded little ruminations. Perhaps I was being somewhat rude to be so forthright about items that meant more to her than to me. I made no attempt to discover if I was.
Leena gestured to me again. "Let us return."
I suppose she showed me the sword and armour to express her authenticity. She needn't, I knew already that she was who I thought she was. So I managed to tear my eyes from Allyn's items and followed her into the `lounge', shall we call it. Leena sat down on one of the two chairs I saw earlier. I did the same with the opposing chair without waiting to be asked. It was reasonably warm in here thanks to the flames of the fireplace so I began taking off my heavy boots, coat, gloves and cap. They were all made from the hide of Silesian snow boars -- their fur provided good insulation. I also took pack off my back and withdrew a scroll of parchment, a writing feather, and a small jar of ink that I wrapped up in wool to prevent it from freezing.
Leena pointed at me with her walking stick. "How did you find me?"
"An ex-soldier turned instructor for Freikdebard's lower infantry gave me the location. He goes by the name of Graig, I believe?"
The old woman smiled, if only a bit. It was not a smile of bitterness. "He is still alive, eh? I`ll be damned."
"Please tell me her story." I asked of her one last time.
There was a lingering indecision I could see on her face. I knew it wasn't from fear of dredging up old hurtful memories, I could tell. Hers was surely a demeanour that had hardened as a result of those kinds of reminiscences. Whatever it was she proceeded, through aged lips and vocals, to take me years into the past, to the days of the one known as `Allyn Arceneaux'.
"It all began," she told me. "in the village of Stoltz..."
The year was 193 C.E.
It had been nearly two centuries since the unification of the seven kingdoms of the northern continent under the crown of Nolst I, the first emperor of Elcourvian Empire. The years had rolled by. And now word had gotten through the dales and hills swiftly of the birth of a crown prince, a boy named Willendorff, to the current emperor, Nolst IV. Before long the entire empire was overflowing with glee at the birth of this new child, a child who symbolized nearly 200 years of peace. Festivities were even taking place within the small countryside village of Stoltz.
It was nestled in a valley just a few miles north of the city of Freikdebard and was an avid trading partner of it. It was here that farms were erected. With each year's harvest, 60% of the bounty was sent to Freikdebard in exchange for money, arms and political loyalty. It was a steady foundation for the wider area to live by and so no one questioned it. It was the way of things. But though most of people in the village of Stoltz (who numbered at about 400 or so) would be born by and would die by the agricultural industry, there were always a few who sought more and would eventually find it. One of those people was ten-year-old Leena Bacon.
She lay calmly over her sheet-less bed, a bunk bed that she shared with her older brother Markus, who was out cultivating the fields with her Father and the patriarch of the Bacon family, Ynoll. In her hands was the holy book of the Empire, the Tome of Sohrab, which she read quietly to herself.
"There was once a time when there was no more than black chaos," she recited softly. "And then the holy Goddess, unhappy with this emptiness, materialized herself from the cosmic nothingness. She bled herself into the murky darkness and summoned the ancient spirit of darkness, Maelkutuzai, to her side. He seized her, the most ultimate incarnation of light, and gave her his seed. Nine thousand years later she gave birth to this world. But Maelkutuzai betrayed her and infested it with many evil spirits and monsters. To counter his actions the Goddess gave birth to beings who could contest those creatures and win back dominion over the world. They were humans."
Leena closed the first chapter of the book with awe. "Wow...! The Goddess was amazing..."
"Leena!" A loud, matriarchal voice shouted to her from downstairs. "Get your backside down here right now or there ain't going to be any dinner for you!"
The little girl sighed. It was her mother, Marina.
"...I'm coming, Mama...!" She yelled back. But before she went she hid her copy of the Tome of Sohrab underneath her hey-filled white pillow. Leena was the only one in her family who could read. Everyone knew she could but her father didn't encourage her to do it. Ynoll had said that reading `fills your head with all kinds of crazy nonsense that don't put no food on the table by sunset'. But reading was a guilty passion of hers and she didn't want to give it up. So Leena hopped off her bed after hiding her book, left her and Markus's bedroom, and skipped down the loose wood floorboards of her staircase to the ground floor.
In the kitchen, her mother was standing beside the cooking pit, a square build-up of bricks with a grill on top and a roaring flame inside. There was a metal pot sizzling on top of it. Bubbling hot gravy was leaking out of its sides. The portly Marina pulled off the lid and stirred it in circles with her big iron spoon.
She turned around when she heard Leena approach. "Oh! So you are awake. Good. I need you to go to the market for me, Leena. Get me some goose eggs, a batch of thyme, and a chicken, I think. There are some gold coins and a basket on the table."
So there was. Leena pocketed the money and took the basket into her hands. "I'll be back soon, Mama."
"Alright then. Be careful, Leena." She said in parting.
She nodded to that and then skipped off out of the rear kitchen door. She walked around her house and onto the dirt tracks that cut through the entirety of Stoltz village. Around her were numerous shacks and stalls that sold all manner of items, some of them even imported from the merchant city of Rork. In the air hung the smell of farmland and grass, and all around her Leena could hear the vitality of the place through the clucks of the chickens in their coops to the bartering of a seller and a customer at a fruit stall. It was a vibrant and friendly locality where everyone knew each other. Leena was greeted by more than a few adults as she walked through the streets toward the main market. They were all getting ready to celebrate the birth of the future Emperor Willendorff II. But there was one `special person' that she liked most of all. That person revealed themselves when she covered Leena's bright blue eyes with her hands.
"Guess who!" She said giddily.
Leena giggled. "Annemarie, I know it's you..."
She twirled around and was treated to the sight of her adorable and absolute `bestest' friend ever, Annemarie Arceneaux. The two of them had been best friends for as long as either of them could remember. Their mothers had also been very good friends until Annemarie's mother, Selena, died of cholera two years ago. Her father Wolfgang was a sailor whom had been killed in a shipwreck shortly before Annemarie's birth. Because of those two tragedies she lived under the care of her aunt and uncle (they had been the ones who taught Leena how to read... although she had never told her mother and father that). Despite losing both her parents like that; Annemarie never let the fire in her soul diminish. She was a vibrant, outgoing and tomboyish youth, always willing to do anything. It was one of the many things Leena liked about her.
"So what are you doing today," Annemarie asked inquisitively. "Class is over for winter solstice."
Leena nodded. "Yeah. But my Mama asked me to go get a few things from the market for breakfast."
"Okay then. After breakfast, come see me behind old man McGinty's barn, alright? I've got something to show you."
She didn't know what it was but anything involving Annemarie was something she wanted herself to be involved in. So Leena waved her friend goodbye and quickly scampered off to the market. While there Leena bought what her mother had asked of her (eggs, thyme and a feather-plucked chicken) then jogged back to her house to hand the items over. Ynoll and Markus came home from the fields an hour or so later on and they all sat down to breakfast around the table. When it was done, Leena washed the dishes in the mess bucket while her brother and father went back out to the farms. Marina whipped on her bonnet and went off to make her daily blessings to the statue of the Goddess in the town square, which left Leena free to do as she wanted. She did that by leaving the house and heading off to old man McGinty's barn.
Robert McGinty was known around town for being the most miserable and crotchety man ever. He had been that way ever since his daughter disappeared. But if there was something Annemarie wanted to do behind his barn then Leena guessed it would be lots of fun. She crossed the town and over to its outskirts. There stood old man McGinty's barn, a rough old building with towering barn door and filled with the cackles, clucks and screeches of his animals. Leena saw her friend standing by those barn doors in wait for her.
"Annemarie!" Leena ran up to her. "I'm here. What did you want to show me?"
The girl clasped Leena by the hand and led her around the left side of the barn. It was a harmless touch, but... Leena was well aware of it. It made her cheeks flower a deep rouge. Annemarie didn't notice. She just led her around the side of McGinty's barn. Annemarie then released her and kneeled down in front of a tall patch of grass that had been disturbed recently. Leena looked. There was something hidden inside.
"What is that?" She speculated.
Annemarie grinned cheekily and stuck her hand into the grass patch. She withdrew from it a long and thin piece of wood with a much smaller piece of wood nailed close to the lower end of it. At first Leena thought it was some kind of crucifix marker for a grave. But when Annemarie held up the lower end of it in the way that she did, she realized it was some kind of makeshift sword.
"Tah dah!" The child beamed. "This is my blade! What do you think, huh? I made it myself!"
Leena gave her a half-smile. "It's... it's nice. But what do you want a sword for?"
"As of today, I'm officially becoming a soldier for the Empire!" She proclaimed heartily. "I'm going to protect the future Emperor Willendorff with my life!"
"You want to be a soldier?"
"Yep!" Annemarie nodded with earnest. "But not just any soldier, I'm going to be an Angel Knight! I shall be one of the greatest warrior ever, shan't I?"
She couldn't help it. Leena giggled. And at that Annemarie pouted. "...What? What's so funny? Don't you think I could be a good Angel Knight, Leena?"
"Yeah, but... you can't be an Angel Knight. Girls aren't allowed to be."
"Well they should be!" the childish Annemarie stated defiantly. "I'm gonna prove to everyone that I'm perfect for being an Angel Knight. And I'll do it by killing a monster!"
Leena blinked with alarm. "A monster? There aren't any monsters around here."
"That's what I wanted to show you. Come on."
The back end of old man McGinty's barn was obscured from sight by high wooden fences. No one aside from him himself ever went inside them. Leena was conscious of that as Annemarie led her into the barn and back out again through one of its side doors. What they came to wasn't so much an outdoor stable as was a... paddock. Across the fifty-metre patch was an unusual animal chained to a post that had been staked into the ground. It had a stubbly, dog-like shape to it, but its skin was a tough set of green and purple scales. It had a snub-nosed snout and three sharp ivory claws on each one of its four gnashing paws. It was asleep. When Leena saw it she winced.
"Ew! What is that? It's horrible!"
"I don't know what it is," Annemarie admitted. "I was passing by the barn last night and I heard the most awful noise. I think that was its roar."
Leena could hardly bring herself to look at the ugly beast. "...It's just horrible..."
That was when Annemarie turned to her and smiled a warm, reassuring smile. "Don't be scared, Leena. I'll protect you. I'm going to conquer that monster and everybody will know that I'm going to be an Angel Knight. I'll prove to you I can do it. You just have to be my witness, okay?."
She was still scared truth be told; but if Annemarie was in then she was in. "...Okay."
The other girl nodded and then turned stalwartly to the dog-lizard hybrid chained to the post. She tip-toed over to it then slowly undid the chains binding it to the post. Annemarie backed up and took up a rock from the grass below. She then hurled that rock at the sleeping beast's head and shouted angrily, "Wake up, vile child of Maelkutuzai! I, the esteemed Annemarie Arceneaux of Stoltz, hereby challenge you to a duel to the death, for the honour of the Empire, the chastity of the good maiden Leena, and my knighthood!"
When the `lizard dog' awoke it put its nose to the ground and sniffed. It didn't open its eyes. But very soon after it darted its thin head in the kid's direction. It snapped open its stinking jaws and shrieked out a dreadful cry that made Leena whimper with fear. Annemarie was unshaken.
"Come at me!" She yelled.
The `lizard dog' scampered toward them in a charge. Annemarie ran forward and swung her wooden sword its way. The beast roared and bit down on the plank of wood like the toy it was. The girl found herself tugged and pulled in all directions as the `lizard dog' gnawed at her sword. Seconds later it bit straight through the thing. Annemarie stumbled back with a gulp. The `lizard dog' shook its head from side to side and tossed away its bit of the fake sword with a single powerful swing of its jaws. The two girls, both of them now realizing how big of a mistake this was, stepped back as the monster started snarling the pair of them.
"Run away!" Annemarie yelled.
The two girls made a break for it. The `lizard dog' chased them around the circumference of its paddock until Leena noticed a gap in the fence. They both quickly passed under it. But it didn't lead back to the village, it led out into the woodland behind Stoltz, Whistleroot Forest. The `lizard dog' smashed through the small gap and gave chase. Leena and Annemarie were forced to run deep into an area they had never been in before, jumping over roots, rocks and fallen trees to get away. Very soon they saw the only recourse. A tall and very aged tree that looked more than stable enough to hold both of them.
"Leena, look!" Annemarie shouted and pointed at the tree. "Let's climb it!"
"...Okay...!" She replied in gasps.
As soon as they got to it the pair scaled the tree. The `lizard dog' was close in tow but wasn't fast enough to catch them before they got up there. As the two girls climbed into the high security of the branches the monster scraped and slashed at the tree trunk with its claws. Annemarie clasped Leena and held her close while the `lizard dog' snapped and shrieked at them. It was all in vein. So it snarled one last time before backing off the tree and turning back.
When it retreated Annemarie breathed a sigh of relief. "It's gone."
"Yeah..." Then Leena finally took notice of her surroundings. "Where are we...?"
Annemarie looked around herself. "Must be in Whistleroot Forest. I can't see where the village is from here."
"Maybe we should go...?"
"No. That monster is still out there somewhere. And we don't know which way to go, either. Lets wait until someone notices that we're missing and comes to find us."
Leena blinked. "Won't we get in trouble that way?"
"Better than being eaten, isn't it?"
The plan stood as she said it would. It was many hours later, when night had fallen and chill had snuck its way into the air, that a search party (headed by the village elder) armed with torches and swords came across them. Their parents were amongst the party. Their concern was soon replaced by fury as an explanation for their absconding was demanded on the spot. Annemarie took the blame for all of it and explained what happened. As a result she received thirty ruler smacks across the bottom for her silly dalliances. Leena got off easy with five. The pair was then banned from playing together for three weeks.
The time kept apart from Annemarie was even more unbearable than she thought it would be. When the three weeks were up they rushed to meet each other by the water gardens of the village. Leena caught her breath when she first saw Annemarie again, unable to think of anything to say except, "I missed you". For Annemarie it was very much the same. So they just ended up cuddling together by the pond. It felt odd for Leena though. She found herself... noticing more about Annemarie. Like how much she liked her short cropped blonde hair and her sparkling green eyes. She just... wanted to look at her. And Leena always got a funny feeling in her tummy when she did... but it was nice. She was happy when she was around Annemarie. She was unhappy when she wasn't.
She looked up. "Yes?"
"I'm... I'm really sorry I got you in trouble."
Then it happened. Leena didn't know why she did it and she never would, but at that point she leaned up and kissed her. Not the kind of kiss friends shared when greeting each other. It was the kind of kiss that mamas and papas shared. Annemarie went still but she didn't pull away. When Leena finally did, she bit her lip, feeling awkward.
"I... really, really, really like you, Annemarie..."
There was silence.
And then Annemarie kissed her back.
That was the beginning of their love -- an admission of it.
"I see. So even back then, as children, the two of you were..."
Old Leena nodded at me. "Yes. We were childhood sweethearts."
As I listened to what the older Leena told me of Allyn Arceneaux during her youth I realized that I had not even wondered what her origins were. I didn't even know what her birth name was up until now. I had always thought of her as the Angel Knight that a woman dared to be, a mature figure, not some impish brat with a lust for grandeur. She was not quite the girl I anticipated her to be. But in truth that made her all the more intriguing. I was compelled to know more now, not just out of obligation to the woman's revolution, but as a person. Luckily Leena seemed to be able to express these most tender of thoughts to me without qualm.
"I am curious though. You say that this man, McGinty, had a monster in his barn?"
"That is correct."
I ruminated. "From the description you gave me it sounds like-"
"A baby Gryken," She finished my sentence for me. "As you well know they are not indigenous to this continent. After Annemarie told them about what happened, the search party mobilized and killed that creature. When they later searched his property to discover how he had been able to acquire one they found his diary. Inside he had written that his daughter had planned to run off with a soldier from the capital and that in his grief he had accidentally killed her. Apparently he had pushed her down a flight of stairs. To hide the truth he fed her remains to the Gryken. Once this was discovered he was arrested, but he committed suicide before he was brought to trial. I believe he slashed his throat open with a dagger he snuck off one of the guards of the gaol he was locked in."
"...How utterly morbid." I answered.
"He was irrelevant," explained Old Leena. "But there were two things of grave importance in that event. It was the time I learned of my feelings for Annemarie and the time I learned of Annemarie's feelings for me. But what's more... that was the first time I learned of Annemarie's desire to be a Angel Knight. Her dream seemed silly to me at that point. I underestimated her. She was deathly serious."
"I see." I made sure to scribe all of this down on my scroll. These were the notes I was taking for my book. Before long I compelled her to continue. "So what happened next?"
"The barbarian invasions," she whispered solemnly. "They changed everything."
The year was 200 C.E.
Officially the northern continent had seen two centuries of unification. But the seven kingdoms of the northern continent, the seven kingdoms that made up the entirety of the Elcourvian Empire, were only the kingdoms recognized by the authority of the noblemen based in the Empire's capital, Teruvia. There was a large tract of land in the north connected to the mainland of the continent by a peninsula. This land was called Silesia. And it was populated by hundreds of thousands barbarian tribes which had once been scattered and at odds with one and other. However those tribes were, one by one, becoming unified themselves under the banner of a savage warlord by the name of Salganhuuk. He and his vast barbarian hordes were now crossing the peninsula and staging ruthlessly aggressive attacks against the northern villages and cities of the Empire.
They were a feared lot.
Tales had spread across the land of how they would gather together archers and shoot flaming arrows into the principalities they wanted to storm before charging in on foot to ransack the place in the confusion. They were said to be as ferocious as any monster, killing men indiscriminately through beheadings and disembowelments. Women and young girls were said to suffer an even worse fate of stolen chastity or worse still -- being seized alive by the hordes and sold into slavery within their own lands. One researcher maintained to have witnessed the results of a barbarian attack. He had claimed that the corpses of dozens of bloodied and naked women had been hung from the outer walls of the town on the ends of nooses; and that each one had had her right breast sliced off and sown back into their respective mouths, apparently to symbolize the Empire's `masturbation of itself'. Their techniques of torture were just as repulsive. Molten silver poured into ear canals, burning hot pokers thrust up the anus, being fed herbal concoctions with laxative qualities and then forcing the prisoner to eat their own purified faeces. It was needless to say that these stories spread fear quickly through the Empire, in particular its northern domains. There was a growing consensus amongst the peasantry and the nobility alike that the Empire would be overrun unless something was done urgently to address the barbarian problem. This in turn led to Emperor Nolst IV, with the agreement of his advisors, to pass an edict of conscription across the northern lands of the Elcourvian Empire. It was a piece of legislation which announced that the eldest born males of every household, as long as they were fifteen or over, must sign up for a military effort against Salganhuuk and his barbarian hordes. This military exodus was coming to be known in popular vernacular as the Holy Crusade.
The village of Stoltz was in no way immune to this panic. The barbarian peninsula was many hundreds of miles from there, but day by day the hordes were coming closer and closer. It was now being alleged that the first set of conscripted soldiers sent to meet the barbarian armies was obliterated at a highland fort once thought to be completely impenetrable.
A climate of anxiety and concern was sweeping the northern quarter of the Empire and people began to fear that it was only a matter of time before they were next. These sentiments were somewhat lost on Leena however. Much had changed for her since she and Annemarie snuck into old man McGinty's barn and came face to face with that monstrous baby Gryken. Seven years had come and passed. From an adorable child she had grown into a beautiful young girl. Her figure had filled out and her luscious black hair reached all the way down to the small of her elegant back, covered over by the formal grey and white robes she was wearing. Leena stood silently by one of the bookcases of the village library. Since less than 5% of its populace could read it was a small building that didn't often find itself with visitors. Leena, and her tutor, Miss Gwendolyn Bacon, were the exceptions.
Gwendolyn sat by a table across from Leena. There was a book laid out before her which she read with the reading glasses poised on her face. Gwendolyn wasn't just her tutor though. She was also Leena's stepmother. Her biological mother, Marina, had died of heart failure three years ago. Last year, when Ynoll was on a trip to the merchant city of Rork to meet his brother, he met Gwendolyn and they quickly fell in love. It took many by surprise. After all they were not really suited -- Ynoll was a contract farmer with something of a grudge against academia while Gwendolyn was a travelling lecturer of ancient philosophy and C.E.M. (Classical Element Magic) whom had studied at the prestigious Freikdebard University. Leena bore Gwendolyn no ill will and Gwendolyn had been quick to recognize Leena's potentiality not only as a scholar but also as a sorcerer. Since then Leena had been studying under her as an apprentice. And when she completed her training she would be allowed to apply to Freikdebard University on a scholarship grant.
Leena scanned the books she was looking through and withdrew the one she needed; `The Fundamental Union of the Classical Elements' by Elgyn Hammersmith (circa 3200 B.E.). She sat herself down at the same table as Gwendolyn and opened the dusty book on its 452nd page.
"Brushing up on the basics before your final exam, eh?" Gwendolyn speculated.
Leena nodded to her. "Yes. I have already learned to harness my natural magical abilities but I have not quite yet found my affinity. I think it is with fire... but I shan't be certain of that until I submit myself to closer scrutiny."
"Well there is not much within that text I have not already taught you. The foundation for ALL magic is the union of potentiality that exists between the classical elements. Fire, Wind, Water and Earth. Once a human harmonises the balance between the potentialities of each element within oneself, Elemental Unity is thus achieved and the two cosmic, conflicting forces that shape the flow of time and space and all of reality, the forces of darkness and light, are awakened. And through the amalgamation of darkness and light comes the final potentiality of all -- the power of absolute creation."
Leena smiled softly. "Somehow I do not think I am capable of achieving the final potentiality."
"It seems hopeless, does it not?" Her mentor suggested. "I do not doubt that it would take a tremendous level of skill to achieve it. Perhaps it is that why we sorcerers continue to chase after the idea. But then... perhaps our inability to accomplish the final potentiality is the Goddess' way of telling us that there are some forces and concepts that human beings are not meant to meddle with. Is that not so?"
The younger one smiled bashfully. Gwendolyn had a habit of breaking into personal speculation and thought during a conversation. Sometimes it was hard to keep up with her.
For the next few hours the two sat together and studied the relevant literature on hand. Then the town bell sounded out around Stoltz to signal the midday. That meant the end of the first half of Leena's daily lesson. The budding scholar come sorcerer closed the current tome she was on and returned all the books she and Gwendolyn had taken out to their rightful place on the shelves. Leena then said her goodbyes to Gwendolyn and left the town library. As she walked though the village streets it was clear that the encroaching barbarian hordes had done much to instil fear in Stoltz's people. There were fewer traders and stalls on the dirt tracts, there were no children playing games, no joy or communion. Just whispers between the few citizens left on the streets, whispers that pertained to the marauding Salganhuuk. Where they next? That was the general worry. Some people had even sold up their homes and immigrated south. Entire streets of empty homes for sale could found effortlessly in Stoltz now. According to the elder the population had dwindled to less than 150.
But Leena tried not to think too heavily about that. She had someone on her mind who was, in her own humble opinion, far more important; namely Annemarie. Leena journeyed to her home on the other side of town and used her iron key to enter. She would be alone now, Leena knew, so there would be no need to tip-toe around. Annemarie's aunt and uncle were amongst those whom had fled Stoltz and other northern villages for the south. They had begged her to join them but she refused. Leena had believed this to be because it would cause them to separate but it was only later that she realized that that was only part of the issue. Nevertheless she entered the Arceneaux household and ascended its creaking stairs. On the way up she heard numerous shouts and war cries, "Yah" and "Hah!" and "Tah!" and so on. When Leena opened the door to Annemarie's bedroom the origin of those cries became clear.
The girl with the short blonde hair stood in the centre of her room, waving and thrusting a rusted old machete (which was normally used to cut the sugar cane fields in the tropical regions in the south-eastern quadrants of the Empire) in the air. After a few minutes of sparring with her non-existent opponent she dropped the machete from her hand and wiped her brow. Leena sighed. Annemarie's steadfast resolve to become an Angel Knight had not gone away... in fact it had grown far stronger now than anyone could have predicted. All the same Leena rushed across the dusty floorboards of the room and seized her lover from behind with an embrace. She held her tight, feeling Annemarie's warmth and admiring her natural scent -- a beautiful bastardisation of pine nuts and oranges.
"Oh how I have missed you so..." Leena expressed. "I have been thinking of you all day."
Annemarie turned around within her sweetheart's arms and held her back, just as close. They gazed longingly and lovingly into each other's eyes. The two had been a secret couple for the past seven years but the thunder of their affection for one and other had yet to wane.
Annemarie smiled. "And I you. Are you well?"
"Yes. Miss Gwendolyn works me very hard but I do not cower from it. The magiks are my calling, do you see? I want to learn more of this world and why we are all in it. If I pass my final exam with Miss Gwendolyn then my place at Freikdebard University is assured."
Annemarie's smile diminished... if only slightly. "That is good. You should pursue your calling."
"Beloved?" Leena whispered. "What is it? Annemarie, what is wrong...?"
"All is well."
The burgeoning scholar frowned. "Do not lie to me. We promised each other this; that no secrets or lies should dwell between us. That was but one thing we swore to. What words are so utterly poisonous that you of all people could find yourself unable to so much as whisper them into my ear?"
There was an indecision in the beautiful green eyes of her beloved Annemarie. But whatever it was that was plaguing her, she quashed its horns and fixed herself to her lover and her lover only. Annemarie soon ran her sleek fingers through Leena's silky black mane of hair. One of her favourite pastimes was to play with the sorceress's long ebony tresses.
"Oh Leena, I love you so very much," Gasped Annemarie. "The mere thought of anything befalling you... anyone harming you... or even anything in your very vicinity... causes my blood to boil."
"There is nothing to fear... I am here... and I love you..."
There was no way Annemarie could contain herself any longer, not when Leena spoke such beautiful things. She pulled Leena to her and kissed her passionately. The lightning between them was powerful enough to overwhelm any other thoughts that might have trodden into their brains at that point. A giddy Leena whimpered her lust and let her nimble hands reach up to either of Annemarie's soft rouge-enflamed cheeks. They thrust their lips together and broke away only to return again, tilting their heads to either side.
Annemarie's hands slipped from Leena's back and flowed downward to her young hips. They then carefully worked their way around and seized upon her buttocks. Leena moaned into their kiss at the sheer feeling of it, of her lover's hands grasping her hind quarters with zeal. As a result the kiss deepened, with Annemarie thrusting her tongue through Leena's full pouting lips and into her mouth.
They clumsily but eagerly backed themselves toward the woollen bed that stood below the window of Annemarie's bedroom. They collapsed on top of it whilst they furiously kissed one and other. Leena landed on her back. Annemarie mounted her from the hips and proceeded to force her tongue down the throat of her lover. Shared moans and sobbing overtook a once quiet room. The sheets twisted with them as they ground and humped into each other.
There was disquiet and harmony between them. Annemarie and Leena had grown onto different physical planes since childhood. Annemarie had become tall uncommonly tall for woman; and lithe to boot, with much strength in her body. Leena was by contrast a much smaller person but with a greater definition of her feminine self. She was curvier, possessed larger breasts, rounder hips and slimmer thighs. It was probably these physical differences that caused them to fix so well sexually.
Annemarie reached underneath the folds of Leena's robes and took hold of her buxom breasts. Leena broke their kiss and hissed with delight. She could feel Annemarie's probing fingertips flicking at her erect pink nipples. Truth be told Annemarie would have preferred to simply strip Leena of her clothing but she reluctantly refrained -- she knew that her lover had to go back to her classes in those robes. They did not have much time.
Because of that the blonde one unhanded Leena's left mound and slid it down her thin body. It made its way along her slim side down to her waist and then slipped between her hips. Leena did not try to suppress the relentless gasps that escaped her when Annemarie's left hand slipped underneath her underwear and cupped her warm, dampened womanhood. She was quick to return the favour, pushing her hand into Annemarie's masculine brown trousers and ran her fingers into that thin labial region.
With inexplicable synchronization they thrust their index and middle fingers into each other and sobbed violently together. Their twin fingers pushed in and out of their lover's vagina. Both girls at the same time quivered at the exquisite feeling of the other's fingers pushing in and out of their sopping centres and basked in the feeling of their own being clamped down upon by hot wet internal flesh. Their hips pumped as one and at a single tempo, Annemarie bit down lightly upon Leena's shoulder to silence herself while Leena went to suckling at the taller girl's throat. It was not enough for either of them. A torrent of pleasure washed over them as their actions brought them to a climax and their collective screams overpowered the groans of the mattress beneath them. They both secreted a gush of vaginal wetness that splattered over the bed linen like a fallen bottle of ale.
Annemarie lowered herself upon Leena, pressing her smaller breasts against her larger ones. Leena remained unmoving beneath her. It was all she could do to keep breathing. Annemarie gave her smile of satisfaction and of pride before rolling off of her, onto her side, and then wrapping her strong arms around the raven-haired girl's smaller frame.
"If I ever lost you to oblivion," she whispered dreamily. "I should feel inclined to join you there."
Leena, who was still breathing quite heavily, simply fobbed that off. "Do not say such things. You shall never lose me. I am yours, now and for all time."
"Tonight... come to me at the flower garden where we first kissed. But for now... I pray you merely lie here with me... as my `only'."
And so Leena snuggled closer to her. "...I would offer you nothing less."
Considering that these were the distant recollections of a feeble old woman, I felt an odd heat in myself. It made me recall my own childhood sweetheart, a boy named Edward. I had been in no relationships since him. My studies had overtaken almost all of my time to the exclusion of everything else. It made me think somewhat. It was almost as if I suggested to myself that this old woman, frail and decrepit, had lived a more fulfilling life than I had so far. But that was nonsense, was it not? I had no need for romantics of any sort.
...I couldn't take that tiny wonder away. Was I unfulfilled?
I shook my head and tried to retain my focus. "So, as Allyn and yourself were maturing, your love for each other followed suit, is that correct."
"That is so."
"Then what happened after that," I asked of her. "You said something about her wanting to meet you by the water gardens where you first kissed, did you not?"
She pulled another one of those grim smiles. "Yes. Later that evening I took myself over to the water gardens of Stoltz. I expected her to explain to me what her anxieties were when we were together that day. And so she did... but not in person."
"Whatever do you mean?"
That was when Old Leena went into her dress pocket and withdrew a withered piece of parchment. She presented it to me. I took it into my hands and looked at it. It was a letter written to Leena from Allyn herself. It was in (relatively) good shape considering it was over sixty years old. I unfolded it and read aloud,
"My dearest Leena,
Words cannot express the regret I feel as I write every single line of this letter. It is truly proof that I am not worthy of you, as I have known for the past seven years. I proved it with my idiotic childishness on that day, bringing you into danger. I will never forgive myself for that. You see I do not even deserve to express my love for you. I am too weak as I am. I wish to be stronger not to merely assuage my own pride and hubris but to defend your light. You are my heartbeat. I do not exist if you do not exist. And if I do not do something soon to engulf and vanquish my weaknesses then I know I will lose you. The threat of the barbarian hordes have made a coward of me. How long will it be before they knock on your doorstep and take you away from me? A being as special as you deserves to be surrounded by the eternal light of the Goddess but I am too selfish to lose you to her as yet. It is for that reason that I am leaving Stoltz. I will achieve my dream but I will not be achieving it for its own sake. I will become what I wish to be, for the sole purpose of protecting you, my beloved. Should you hate me or love me all the more for what I am doing this wish of mine shall not be swayed. I will be worthy of you, Leena. Please be safe.
Forever in love,
Old Leena shut her eyes a moment, probably recalling what she had felt the first time she had read that letter. I imagine she must have read it over and over again hundreds of times since then. When Old Leena opened her eyes she chuckled derisively. "She was the most pathetically romantic woman I had ever met. I spent weeks crying myself to sleep after she left. Without her I devoted myself almost entirely to my research and my scholarship. That was no kind of life."
I was browbeaten for a moment.
But thankfully she continued and distracted me from it, "Years started to pass. Slowly over time I considered, less and less, her predicament, until finally one day she stopped dominating every waking thought in my head. So it was something of an irony that very soon after that moment she strolled back into my life. Albeit with some vast changes..."
The year was 203 C.E.
Three years had come and passed after Annemarie Arceneaux left the village of Stoltz for pastures unknown. The world of the northern Empire changed regardless. The attacks of the barbarian hordes became more frequent and more violent over the months. The raids had emptied out most of the villages and towns of the northern lands either through death, capture (and subsequent sale into barbarian slavery) or migration. The Holy Crusade had done little, if anything at all, to stop the influx of savages into the Empire's northern territories. That in itself was unsurprising. They were poorly equipped, had little in the way of armour, and their numbers were less than 7,000. Although they had the quite capable leadership of Fraust Schroedinger, the deputy head of the Imperial Order of the Angel Knights, his influence over an army could only do so much. The conscripted army of the Holy Crusade was often overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and tenacity of their ghastly enemies. However it was not until the year 202 C.E., when Salganhuuk's merciless charging armies began occupying the deserted townships of the north, that serious alarm bells began ringing in the capital. To have them raid those places was one thing; there was only so much to plunder before retreating back across the peninsula, as some military advisors to Emperor Nolst had suggested. But they did not return to the ancestral lands in Silesia. The hordes had actually started colonizing the townships they conquered. This was truly summed up when, less than eight months ago, when the largest tribe of Salganhuuk's reserve infantry (the Raelbuughak Tribe) lay siege to and swallowed up the biggest and most prosperous city of the northern Empire, Ban-Fai Pan. The siege had lasted nearly three weeks but eventually its city walls fell. Its surviving population was now at the mercy of the Raelbuughak Tribe, one of the most ruthless clans of an already brutal race. They were even said to eat the flesh of virgins.
After the fall of Ban-Fai Pan, a large portion of the Empire's populace, not just those in the north but all over the seven kingdoms, began to make calls for more serious action against the barbarian hordes. It was more than clear to the Emperor too that something had to be done. If not for the people of the north then for the prospect of Salganhuuk creating a barbarian state outside of Silesia. The ignoble warlord was much more of a `politician' than his simple-minded brethren (his continual unification of the many warring tribes above the peninsula said as much) and if he continued to spread his influence across the north such a possibility did not lie outside of his reach. Pundits and newspapers within the Empire were already referring to him as `The Uncrowned King of the Barbarians'.
That was why the Emperor wanted to mobilize the full might of his military. The Imperial Army (in its most effective bulk) consisted of six major clusters. The first was the `Petty' Imperial Infantry. It was the main limb of the army and by far it was its most numerous division. The second was the `Petty' Sorcerers Infantry; armoured magicians and warlocks who took to the field with their magiks and trickery. The third was the Wyvern Knight Corps; soldiers whom had captured and mounted teenaged sky dragons for the purpose of launching aerial strikes. The forth was the Imperial Naval Fleet, a section of the army who specialized in sea battles and galleon sinking. The fifth was the Imperial Order of the Angel Mages; a small but formidable band of elite sorcerers. The sixth and most powerful of all was the Imperial Order of the Angel Knights. They were the super elite, the foremost warriors of the Empire. Men so powerful that they were said to have `unlocked' the hidden potentials of the human body. It was the only division of the army that women were expressly forbidden from joining (which had been something of a time-honoured tradition).
The Imperial Army in its entirety was numbered at around 2.4 million people. It was the largest army in human history and as a result it was almost impossible to mobilize the whole thing at once. The council of elders that oversaw the running of the military, the Imperial Army Sub-Parliament, had to produce a feasible assessment of the possible deployments of army before the Emperor could do anything. And that would take months.
Because of that, Emperor Nolst was left no choice but to rely on the one section of the army, the one that was stationed in Teruvia almost permanently, the Angel Knights. The rank of Angel Knight was not a thing many people could achieve, and it only included men, so their numbers were small, only 3000 collectively. But their powers were so great it was equivalent of 200,000 regular soldiers. The Emperor soon announced that until the Imperial Army's Sub-Parliament had decided how the army was to be deployed and used against the barbarian hordes, small squads of Angel Knights were to be deployed to every village, town and city in the north that had not yet been subjected to enemy encroachment. Within the space of a few weeks the Angel Knight squads were arriving in the north.
Even in the little town of Stoltz.
However Leena was no longer there.
She was twenty years of age now. She was no longer the child she was in 193 C.E. nor the teenager she was in 200 C.E. She was an intelligent and dedicated young woman. After Annemarie had left the village Leena buried herself in her work. She passed her final exam under Gwendolyn and as a result she was given her scholarship to Freikdebard University. Her major was magical research and it was clear that she was exceedingly good at it. When she had first arrived in Freikdebard however, she felt somewhat nervous. Freikdebard was fairly close in location to Stoltz but it was entirely different. This was a city. It was enormous and housed over 375,000 people (according to last year's city-wide census). There were no huts or farms or stables. Freikdebard was a pre-eminent place of riches and prosperity. Its architecture said as much; the cobblestone roads that were ridden upon by carts and horse-drawn carriages, the multi-tier thatched roof houses, mansions, shops and pubs; the many museums and opera houses, not to mention the University; all of it bespoke of Freikdebard's grace and culture.
Leena had felt somewhat dwarfed by it all, especially when she enrolled in Freikdebard University. Most of its students were from the middle and upper classes. They could quite easily afford to be there without a scholarship, unlike Leena. She herself was of the peasantry and it isolated her, though she eventually learned to pay it no mind. Over time it became clear to Leena, her student peers and all of her lecturers that she would graduate the year as valedictorian. Her skills in sorcery were growing more and more advanced by the day. It was for that reason that the Dean of Freikdebard University, the `right honourable' Grandora Praxedes, had taken over Leena's tutelage entirely. As a former Angel Mage, it became clear that Grandora was the only one who could have taught Leena anything more about the magical artes. Not only that but the Dean had sent a letter to the capital requesting a trainee position for Leena in the Imperial Order of Angel Mages upon her graduation. They had accepted that request. It was all an honour for Leena even though her peers bore her little more than ill-will for it. However... she had to confess that she did not much like Grandora.
She was undoubtedly knowledgeable. Grandora was only forty-eight years of age but had been one of the top ranked Angel Mages of the Imperial Army. No one knew why she retired from service so early in her career but she had come to Freikdebard seven years ago following that retirement. The school authorities quickly located her and had her appointed as dean of the university. Most of the time she was a stern woman in look as well as in deed; with high cheekbones, pale alabaster skin, neat shoulder-length russet hair and thin piercing black eyes.
But there was an oddness to her.
There were many times, even before they had personal lectures together, that Leena would find the older woman... staring at her. She might look up from her chalk and slate tablet as she sat behind her desk, and catch sight of Grandora gazing at her; perhaps biting her thin lower lip or fidgeting with her hands while doing so. Leena might drop an eraser for the chalkboard of one of the large lecturing rooms the two of them were often alone in, and she would notice Grandora's intensive staring of her as she bent down to pick it up. There were other little things too. Whenever Leena had gotten into an argument with a fellow student about her so-called `preferential treatment' Grandora would jump to her defence, almost mindlessly. She showed a leniency with her that she did not give to other students. There were times when for no reason at all Grandora might take her hand to express something. Leena recalled the chills she felt when the older woman would softly rub her palm with her thumb and stare into her eyes. There was even an occasion when Leena woke up with a start in her dorm room (which she shared with no one) and saw Grandora gaping at her in the middle of the night. This was roughly around the time she had received the letter of approval from the Order of Angel Mages, and the Dean had simply stated that she "could not wait until morning to tell her the good news". Whether or not that was the truth was irrelevant to Leena. There was something about Grandora and Grandora's rigorously tactile handling of her that made her feel particularly uncomfortable.
Now was an example.
Leena stood with Grandora in one of the lecturing halls. They were alone. The desks and chairs had been stacked up together at the back of the room to give them space. Grandora observed Leena closely while the young one stood upright, arm extended outward, eyes close. Her body shook tersely.
"...Concentrate, Leena." She said in her icy cold voice.
The sorceress strained in position and then muttered a series of ancient words to herself. Then suddenly a roaring black-coloured flame surged up from her hand in a burst. That fire dissipated very soon afterward, but simply conjuring it was something astounding for someone as young as Leena was. The colour of it suggest that she was achieving true harmony between the elemental potentialities of her body and thus the power of darkness (and eventually the power of light) was coming into her reach. She opened her eyes and gave a half-smile; happy with her performance, but still conscious of Grandora. The Dean clapped three times and stood up from the chair she had been sitting on.
"Very respectable," Grandora uttered sleekly. "However your form still requires work. Here."
Leena swallowed nervously. Grandora came swiftly around her back and pressed into her from behind. She was taller than Leena so they fit into each other as easily as a pair of spoons. Grandora's hips hugged against Leena's rear and her large breasts flattened against her shoulder blades. Leena tightened up, shut her eyes and tried to hide her frown. It could have been her imagination but the girl swore she felt her teacher's inflexibly erect nipples poking into her back. It was then that Grandora's vein-laden hands came into play. She placed them at Leena's small hips. Then she smoothly moved them up Leena's beautiful young form. One hand settled on her stomach while the other one clutched at the girl's right breast. A whimper escaped her. But she told herself, even as she felt Grandora absentmindedly sniffing her hair, "she is not aware" and "I must not offend her".
"You are too sense," Grandora whispered into coolly her ear. As she spoke, her cupping of Leena's breast became a possessive kneading, a caress. "The formulae we memorize to produce magik artes ranges in their power. Nevertheless the range of that power is determined by the capabilities of the magik user themselves. You very clearly have tremendous resonance with the dark artes. But you should be obliged to relinquish that terseness of yours. Once you do that... all manner of powers and passions and pleasures might possibly be yours for the taking..."
The hand at Leena's abdomen slowly inched downwards...
...until there was a knock on the door.
Grandora swiftly separated herself from Leena and both student and teacher quickly tried to acclimate themselves as the Dean irritably yelled "come in" in her normally gruff tone. The door opened and a boy student of the university who was most definitely a sophomore walked inside with a polite bow.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Dean Praxedes. However Professor Morneau told me to inform you that the party of Angel Knights that were to be sent here from the capital have arrived."
Grandora seethed. She had forgotten that she was to greet them (along with the mayor of the city) as a show of good faith to Teruvia. She irately pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose and told the lad, "Many thanks for reminding me of that. You may leave now."
"Yes Ma'am." He said with a bow as he left. He shut the door behind him.
Leena took that as her cue to leave. She smoothed out her scholastic robes (that had been ruffled through Grandora's quasi-groping of her) and headed for the door. Yet before she took even three paces forward the Dean grabbed her wrist and held her motionless.
"Hold, please." Said the older woman. "I am not partial to these military types... even though I once was one. I will need you to come with me."
The way that was phrased did not make it sound optional. Leena had no choice. She heaved a sigh and nodded her approval. The two then left the university together. Out on the streets they flagged down a cab. Both women clamoured inside. Grandora informed the driver of their intended destination so he whipped his horse with his crop to make it trot forward. Leena spent the next half-an-hour staring out of the window and trying to ignore Grandora's continual staring at her body. It was almost impossible to do that given their close quarters in that carriage.
They did eventually get to their intended destination however. Kettle Street. It was a long road cutting through the centre of the city of Freikdebard and linked it to the highways extending out of the urban area. At this point, hundreds of people had taken to the streets. They had gathered in crowds on either side of the street and waved and cheered as two horses pulled a large open air carriage which had the recently deployed Angel Knights on top of it. There were six of them but the two foremost ones stood at the head of carriage. Flower girls threw plucked rose petals at them with glee. This city took much pride in the Empire's military background -- these men were like heroes to them. Considering the natural fear they must have had of Salganhuuk and armies, it was no surprise that their presence was a welcomed one.
When Leena and Grandora's cab pulled up at a side-road they climbed out (after paying the man) and made their way through the crowds to the iron and wood podium that had been constructed at the end of the parade route. Mayor Applebottom and his guards was already there. As Grandora and Leena reached the podium two of the men helped climb them up. At that point it was a matter of waiting until the slow moving cart (that the Angel Knight squad happened to be riding on) came to them. Twenty minutes later it did happen. The four reserve Angel Knights dismounted the cart and came out to the crowds to further greet the people and bask in their glee, while the leading two approached the podium.
Leena observed them when they did. The taller one took her eye first. She knew who that one was. They were all dressed in a similar armour (silver plated and gold-lined) but his was more regal, with two curving ivory horns extending from the sides of his helmet. He was Fraust Schroedinger, the man who up until now, had been commanding the Holy Crusade. He was also deputy leader of the Order and one of the most notable individuals in the Empire. His family, the Schroedingers, had a long history with the Angel Knight Order.
But it was his smaller subordinate that eventually held Leena's attention most of all.
The visor of his helmet had been lifted so Leena saw some of his face. The boy was handsome to the point of beauty, with warm green eyes and trimmed sunflower blonde hair. His stature was slightly smaller than that of his compatriots but he remained firm and very much dignified. Earlier, in the crowds, she had seen and heard buxom young maidens pointing out to him and declaring statements like, "Do you see the shorter one there?", "He is so sensual!", "I had heard of him!", "They nicknamed him the Dark Lion Prince because of his skills in battle!", "A man so beautiful as he? Fie!" and so on. The bashful Leena, somewhat guiltily, admitted that she too found him surprisingly attractive. She was still deeply in love with Annemarie... but she could not deny this soldier's loveliness.
Schroedinger removed his helmet and greeted Mayor Applebottom first with a handshake. "It is good to meet with you at last, Lord Applebottom. Thank you for receiving me so swiftly."
"Think nothing of it," the overweight mayor answered. "Though I must say I am curious. Who is it now that commands the conscripted army of the north? I had heard that at present they were engaged in combat with the barbarian filth at a village two miles south of Ban-Fai Pan."
"That was merely a rumour. My forces are stationed at Rork this point in time and an associate of mine is in command of them. It is my apprentice of two and a half years though, who shall be taking my place as commander in chief of the Holy Crusade. Please allow me to introduce you to the `Dark Lion Prince', Allyn Arceneaux.
Leena's eyes flashed at the name, `Arceneaux'. Grandora noticed her startled confusion. Allyn, as `he' was so called, shook hands with Mayor Applebottom, then Grandora, and then finally he shook hands with Leena. Desperate and confused cerulean eyes stared deeply into confident and restful emerald ones until the penny dropped. The sorceress pressed her hand against her heart and willed it to stop beating as hard and as fast as it was. There was no denying it. It was Annemarie. And Leena felt herself falling in love all over again.
...Which was why she did not notice the jealous stare she and the Dark Lion Prince were receiving from Grandora as they stood enraptured by one and other.
That was the milestone, I knew.
For the longest time I had wondered what it was that compelled Allyn Arceneaux, or `Annemarie' as Old Leena called her, to masquerade as a man and align with the Order of Angel Knights. It was clear to me now. There were two fundamental reasons for it... one was to achieve her childhood dream. The other was her will to protect this woman. It was for love. Many a romantic tale had been spun about wives and tender loves waving goodbye to their husbands as they enlisted. It was considered a death sentence to face the barbarian hordes back then. I think I finally understood now why she did what she did.
It was what Old Leena told me of Grandora that I found most surprising.
Based on what I had been told of Allyn's story in the past, I had assumed that Leena had had some kind of grudge against her -- which led up to the cruel events that would ultimately unfold. But there seemed to be more to it than that. I had to admit, Grandora's part in Allyn's story was always the one that confused me the most. She is such a respected figure at Freikdebard University. When she was killed by an unknown individual in 203 C.E. there was a huge funeral procession for her. The current Dean spoke very warmly of her. I wanted to know more now. So I quickly wrote down the barest notes concerning what she had told me and compelled her to continue.
"Go on, please." I said to her.
Old Leena nodded her head as a yes. "Despite my situation with Grandora I could not have been happier to see my Annemarie again. I was still unsurprisingly fearful... she was pretending to be a male solely to join the Angel Knights. The consequences would be dire if she were discovered. But I also knew that was the only way we could be together and be happy at the same time. Annemarie might readily have relinquished the knight's life for me should I of asked her to do so; but I knew though that that would disappoint her. And I no longer felt I had the right to ask her to change herself for me. So I simply let myself enjoy our instances together. Her masquerading as a man did have its benefits. We no longer had to hide our relationship, we could court as we pleased, though there were times when I would hunger to see my Annemarie merely as the woman she was. And of course, being the noble person that she was... Annemarie rarely shied away from giving me that luxury."
When two students who knew her saw her dressed like this they all gasped with surprise. It had been two years since enrolling in Freikdebard University and her routine had always been the same. She almost never left the confides of the university's walls and if she did she did not dress like a commoner. It would seem though (as it had done for the past three months) that Leena's attitude was changing.
It had swept like wildfire across campus and between the petty wives of the soldier class that for three months, the Dark Lion Prince had been courting a student of the university. On the surface it might not have seemed like the kind of thing gossip was made of. You would be quite wrong to think that. The dream of every young maiden of the Empire, particularly in the north and east, was to marry an eligible knight such as Allyn Arceneaux. His hauntingly artistic swordplay and handsome looks had made something of a legend of him. What made his tale all the more intriguing was his lower-class birth. Very few of the peasantry had been knights in the past. It was a family lineage -- a father was one and then passed his sword and armour down to his son. Then that same son would raise a child of his own and pass those armaments down unto him. Allyn was one of only a handful of people to disrupt that trend. It revolted some but to most it made him all the more interesting; a boy from the peasantry mysteriously appearing in Teruvia one day and winning the favour of Fraust Schroedinger -- such was the stuff of gossip.
There were always more important things to think of.
The barbarian situation for example. Salganhuuk's armies had firmly taken root in Ban-Fai Pan. Its recovery was now something that would only be a possibility if the hordes were pushed back across the peninsula. The troops of the Holy Crusade had rearmed and regrouped in the merchant city of Rork and were willing to continue the fight against the barbarian armies in Schroedinger's absence. When he had received a letter from Rork informing him of that he sent a counter letter straight away. He did not want them to engage the enemy until the assessment report of the Imperial Army's Sub-Parliament had been made. At that point Allyn would take command of the Holy Crusade and Schroedinger would return south to reconvene with the Order in Teruvia and await the Emperor's plan.
But for the women of the aristocracy that was all too depressing to think about. They preferred to speculate on eligible men of the Empire, `men' like Allyn Arceneaux. Because of that Leena knew that she would not be doing her popularity any good. It was less noticeable within the walls of the university because its educated men and women were on the one hand... uninterested in that kind of gossip, and on the other hand, completely uninterested in the warrior-class. Dean Praxedes had been welcomed to the academy for many reasons but a chief one was that she very often spoke negatively of the military (even though she herself had once been an Angel Mage). And with Leena both courting a military `man' and soon becoming an Angel Mage, it was clear that she was making few allies here.
But that was irrelevant to her now. She prepared herself. She pressed the dress she was going to wear, took a bath, and brushed hair with a butterfly-shaped comb she'd bought for herself a week ago. But unlike most of the other students Leena did not have servants on hand to dress her. On her scholarship only she could not afford it. But she did not like the idea of having people do things for her that she could easily do herself. She also liked her privacy. That was one of the privileges of having her own dorm room. It was a `gift' from Grandora. And while she was grateful for that gift she was not charmed by the way the Dean so often invited herself into it.
Very soon though Leena was ready. She was not elaborate. She wore a simple black dress with a few frills and underlying pelts of white. But in that alone Leena looked stunning. On her feet she slipped on two pointed black shoes and on her wrist she snapped on a single golden bangle. After observing and priming herself in front of her full-body oval mirror she knew herself to be ready. Then, just as she turned to the door to leave, there was a knock.
The scholar-come-sorceress sighed. "...Come in."
The door opened and then closed behind the one whom had opened it. It was Grandora. The middle aged Dean of Freikdebard University was about to make a remark, that was until she saw Leena dressed as she was. She was rendered (momentarily) silent as her lips curled into a willowy and emotional smile. A calming breath came before Grandora pushed her vein-encumbered hand against her breast. She uttered her words with genuine esteem. "My Goddess... Leena, you look so very beautiful...!"
She blushed, but not out of charm. Leena had hoped to leave the university before she ran into this woman. Grandora's ability to dampen her mood was limitless. But when she said nothing Grandora approached her. Leena blinked and took an unintentional step back. In her frustration the girl did not notice that she kept stepping back -- not until her back slapped against the wall. Grandora soon leered over her like the battlements of an imposing tower, her breathing heavy and her bosom heaving. Leena looked away. The older woman leaned in close. Close enough for Leena to feel the touch of Grandora's cold lingering breath upon her cheek.
"The Goddess herself would envy your beauty," Murmured Grandora. Two of her long fingers worked themselves into one of Leena's extensive black tresses of hair. "It is no great wonder that many of my pupils resent you -- for both your body and your mind. Do you know quite how perfect you are?"
Leena winced, still not making eye contact with her. "Please, Dean Praxedes. I must go."
"Go? Go where?"
"I am to meet with Anne-" Leena stopped herself before she made the mistake. She still was not used to calling Annemarie by her counterfeit appellation. "Allyn Arceneaux..."
Grandora's brow wrinkled with lines of anger. "...It is true then? Are you laying with him?"
"..." Leena offered no reply.
She loathed it when Grandora shouted at her like that. Leena could take it no longer. Before he conversation went any further she pulled away from both her and the wall, said her quick goodbyes and stepped as hurriedly to the door as possible without offending her tutor. Grandora uttered something as she was leaving but Leena closed the door before she could hear it. A brief moment was taken by the girl to calm herself. Then she strode off down the marble flooring for the hallway and went on to exit the gates of Freikdebard University. Out on the cobblestone road that those gates extended into was `Allyn Arceneaux'. Leena's mood instantly brightened.
The Dark Lion Prince stood in full armour with his hand clutching the reigns of his thoroughbred steed. There was a gaggle of young maidens surrounding him. He awkwardly accepted their many questions of him, trying with great effort not to be rude, until he finally witnessed Leena standing in wait for him. They smiled warmly at each other. So he softly pushed his way through the women. His horse trotted along behind him obliviously. When Allyn and Leena came upon each other they kissed tenderly.
The maidens were not pleased.
"You have been missed." Said the Angel Knight.
"As have you."
"Well then," Allyn launched himself onto the saddle of his strident horse. His silver-plated boots found the stirrups while a sole hand took the reigns. The free hand he offered to his spouse. "Do you care to join me for a spot of afternoon lunch?"
"I would love to." Leena said it with a surreptitious smile so as to further annoy the maidens. She was not insecure however. She knew that Allyn was no philanderer. She had nothing to be jealous of. So she took his armour-clad hand and let him help her up onto the back-half of the horse's saddle. Leena settled onto it side-saddle and wound her arms around Allyn's waist for support. They then rode off down the length of the street. Leena shut her eyes and smiled privately. And though it took an hour or so they eventually rode all the way to the city gates. Allyn was an Angel Knight now so he had the authority to pass through checkpoints at will. The guards and the eastern city gate had no misgivings about letting him pass, regardless. So they rode out of the security of the city of Freikdebard and into the wonderful greenery of the countryside. The rolling hills and pastures of green were things of beauty, as were the soulful forests and the crystal blue skies decorated with ambling white cloud clusters.
The ride took them to a particular spot. It was a small knoll that overlooked Whistleroot Forest, the long stretch of woodland that extended all the way to their hometown, the village of Stoltz. In the centre of the knoll was a large oak tree. Allyn and Leena rode up to it and dismounted there.
"What a beautiful place." Leena spoke.
Allyn tied the reigns of her horse to the trunk of that oak tree. "I discovered it last week. I thought you might like it. I appear to have been right."
Leena shut her eyes and basked in it all. The sun was shining down upon them but there was a cooling breeze in the air. The fragrance of the flowers around the roots of the tree were magnificent. That knoll was lovely. Leena displayed her thanks by kissing Allyn's cheek. "This was a wonderful idea."
"The surprise is not quite over yet." Allyn informed her. There was a pack hanging tight off the side of his horse's hind. He withdrew from it three things; a woven blanket, a straw basket and a bottle of red wine. He rolled out the blanket over the grass and set the bottle and basket down.
"A picnic?" Said a charmed Leena. "You did all of this for me?"
"Yes. And..." As he spoke he pulled off his helmet, revealing his short sun-kissed hair. Then he striped himself of all his armour, including his boots, gauntlets and breastplate, until there was nothing left but a very thin white dress that had been bunched up around the waist. "I thought you might enjoy your day more if you were to spend it with the real me."
Leena gave her a loving nod. The guise of `Allyn Arceneaux' had been relinquished for now. Annemarie was free to be Annemarie here. It was what both of them wanted, even if necessity said otherwise. They kissed once more before sitting down on the blanket underneath the cool shade of the oak tree. Inside the basket were two wine glasses (which Annemarie poured some of the actually wine into), some sandwiches, an exquisite bag of chocolates, a wedge of imported cheese, a selection of crackers, three peaches and a jar of cream, as well as two bowls and spoons.
When Annemarie laid it all out she remarked. "I still cannot cook, something my ascension to the title of knight did not change, so this will have to do. I know that it is not much, but-"
"It is perfect." Declared Leena.
They then sat and ate together. They chatted, laughed, drank, ate and reminisced about the past. They had been courting throughout all of the months that she and the other Angel Knights had been stationed at Freikdebard but this day was the most wonderful by far. All of the problems that had mattered to them in the city; the barbarians, Grandora, hiding Allyn Arceneaux's true identity, all of them were utterly irrelevant here. It was simply about the two of them loving each other and being with each other. They truly were soul mates. Without them even knowing it the hours began to roll by. Even when their victuals were long since consumed, Leena and Annemarie lay facing each across the blanket. It only became clear by nightfall. Darkness settled over the countryside. In the lower west distance they could see the evening lanterns being lit within Freikdebard's walls. Leena sat upright.
"It is late. I should be on my way..."
Annemarie pushed her palm into Leena's hand. "...Wait."
"Huh? What is it?" Replied the scholar, absently.
"...I have a confession to make..."
She now had Leena's full attention. "...A confession?"
"Yes." Annemarie smiled with boyish modesty. "...I had an ulterior motive for bringing you here today, Leena. There is... something I have wanted to ask you, something I have wanted for the longest time you could imagine. I have had dreams about it, you see..."
"What is it?"
"I have been in love with you since we were schoolgirls together," Annemarie admitted. Whilst speaking she went into one of the pockets of her dress and pulled out something, a small item that she kept concealed in her hand. "I have always loved you. You make me laugh, smile, cry, think... I feel as though I am the strongest of souls when you are around me... and like the weakest of the wretches when you are not. It was the thought of me asking you this that kept me strong for the long three years you and I were apart. They called me the Dark Lion Prince because for my bravery and strength in battle but I was only able to summon up that force by thinking of you... of how much I love and wish to protect you... I am what I am... because of you, Leena. And I tell you this now because I cannot imagining spending the rest of my life with someone else. So please, Leena Bacon..."
Annemarie opened her hand. There was an engagement ring in her palm. "...Will you be my wife?"
For the longest moment Leena was speechless. She had not seen it coming even though so many people in the city had wondered if that was where their relationship was headed. But she was not rendered silent for long. Tears began welling up in her eyes. Her throat went dry and her hands shook. The sorceress felt herself swallowed up in an all-consuming groundswell of emotions that transcended anything and everything she had ever felt before. With ecstatic glee she threw her arms around her love and sobbed giddily, "I love you...! I love you, I love you, I love you...! I love you, Annemarie...!"
The blonde woman beamed. "I love you too."
They kissed vigorously before Annemarie took Leena's hand and slipping the engagement ring up her finger. After that, the moon and stars were blessed with the sight of two splendid people making love in a way on those in love could. And an hour passed.
They had to go back as they both had a curfew to abide by. But before they did, Annemarie took up her sword (a claymore called Illudia) and took it to the tree. With it she carved their initials, "AA + LB", into its bark. It would prove to be the last time Leena ever wanted to use `Bacon' as her surname. But there time together that night was short. So they packed up their things, Annemarie got redressed into her armour and once more assumed the guise of Allyn Arceneaux, then they mounted the horse again and rode off back toward Freikdebard. Allyn took Leena all the way to the city walls, then through the city and onward to the gates of Freikdebard University. The couple lovingly kissed each other goodbye. Leena then dismounted.
"Shall I see you tomorrow?" Leena speculated. "I have no lectures."
Allyn nodded. "That is good. Meet me out here then, say by high noon?"
"I will be here. Ride safely, my love."
The Dark Lion Prince gave her a prideful smile before whipping at her reigns. The horse turned around and rode back down the cobblestone street. Leena watched until she was out of sight then headed back into the university. As she strode down its marble hallways she felt rejuvenated and happy in ways she never had before. She was ecstatic. That was until she returned to her room. As she placed her hand on the knob to open the door she heard something like sobbing. She froze. Leena put her ear to the door. What she thought was sobbing was actually moaning. Her fingers touched the door and she pushed it inward a tad so she could create a little opening and see what was going on inside her room. What she saw in there shocked and revolted her.
It was Grandora; lying completely naked upon her bed.
The older woman had her left hand thrust between her hips and she caressed herself furiously there. In her left hand was what Leena identified as her own underwear. Grandora held it to her nose and inhaled the scent. Meanwhile her freckled back arched and her long toes curled up and tugged at the bed linen beneath her. There were already patches of wetness staining that linen. As she hit her climax the Dean muffled her cries of ecstasy by smothering her mouth and nose with Leena's lingerie. Another intense spurt of vaginal wetness hit the already wet sheets. A now satiated Grandora, with her pale ivory skin drenched in sweat, collapsed back onto the bed. Her large breasts thrust in and out from her as she struggled to catch her breath. She withdrew her hand from her hips. It was soaking wet. Leena stood paralysed at her own door at the sight. Grandora took her wet fingertips to her mouth and suckled at them, moaning at the `resplendent' taste of her own vagina.
Leena had never felt more sickened in her life.
Rather than shutting the door and making any noise (she did not want Grandora to know that she had seen that) Leena simply backed away from it and ran upstairs to the library. As soon as she got inside it she found a book, any book (in this case it was Clarence Webster's `On the Eternal Potentiality of the Magical Existence of Mankind' circa 89 C.E.), sat down, opened it, and pretended to read it. She spent the rest of the evening in the library and didn't dare approach her room again until sun-up.
I shared Old Leena's revulsion. "...Dean Praxedes was in love with you?"
"She wasn't in love with me," she recounted. "She was obsessed with me. She was a pervert and at the time I was too scared to either stand up for myself or tell Annemarie. I assumed that her attraction to me would pass, that she would find someone else to obsess over. But she didn't. There were times when she would fall asleep during our private lectures and I would hear her whimper my name in her slumber. It was unnerving. But that night I saw her masturbate in my bed was the straw that broke the camel's back."
"You had had enough?" I put forward.
Old Leena sighed. "Yes. But at that point I was too happy with my engagement to Annemarie to even try and tell the governors about Grandora. It would have been mucky, and I knew for a fact that they would automatically side with her. Academic types stick together no matter what the charge. But that wasn't all. I was afraid of losing my chance of becoming an Angel Mage, and most important of all, I knew that if my accusations could not be proved, there would be a backlash against Annemarie, since at that point I intended to marry her."
"So you kept silent."
"Naturally. But I did not want to be around her any longer. So I returned to group lectures with the rest of my class, claiming that Grandora's techniques were `too advanced' for me, and I moved into a four-person dorm room. It was not much but it greatly reduced the chances of Grandora and I being alone together. That in turn gave me more room to think about my betrothal to Annemarie."
I thought back to what I had heard about their wedding. It was a big affair. With Allyn being an Angel Knight and Leena being a future Angel Mage, the wedding had a militaristic, aristocratic, and scholarly resonance to it. Lord Applebottom (the then mayor of Freikdebard) had even had posters put up around the city to inform people of a glorious event. It was now clear to me now though that the city had overblown the whole affair because it needed to. It needed something special to distract its people from the encroaching barbarian hordes. The wedding held a special place in the story of Allyn Arceneaux however, for being its last sweet note. From then on, as I knew Old Leena would clarify for me, things went sour...
The whole of Freikdebard was agog with talk of the impending marriage of the Dark Lion Prince and the highly talented scholar of magic, Leena Bacon. Lord Applebottom's promotion of the event had not been a half-baked undertaking. Almost everyone knew about it. Many young maidens were disappointed but many more besides could not ignore the romantic allure of a wedding. Few events were as talked about as the betrothal of military officers. Everything had been painstakingly prepared for it. And today was the day.
Leena sat on a stool facing a large vanity mirror. She could hardly believe it when she gazed at her lovely reflection. There was a beautiful young woman there, garbed in a long eminent white wedding dress that possessed all manner of folds, frills and pleats. It had taken ten seamstresses two months to make and its train extended for a good three metres. Leena's lengthy dark hair had been tied up while two solitary bangs cascaded to her jaw either side of her forehead, framing her face. The dressers had powdered her face and applied rouge lipstick and eye shadow. A diamond choker hung from her neck. It had taken more than three hours to bring this all about, and while Leena had never been advocate of excess, she liked how enchanting she felt now. It was not important for herself but for Annemarie. They were dealing with this whole fanfare as a result of Annemarie's position in the army and nothing else. She had to go out there to prove and present to the world that she was worthy to be the wife of the Dark Lion Prince.
There was a knock at the door.
"You may come in." She said.
She watched the wooden door open through the mirror of the vanity unit. It was her father, Ynoll. He himself was dressed in a well-pressed grey suit and had the proudest of smiles on his face. There was no happier parent in Freikdebard right now. He walked up to her and pressed a hand into her shoulder.
"Well ain't you a sight?" He uttered with country zest. "You look great, Leena."
She beamed softly. "I hope so... very much."
"Hey. I'm damn proud of you, kid. You know that? Look at you. I used to chide you for reading too many books and now here you are, about to graduate with honours from one best schools in the Empire and marrying a super-elite Angel Knight. As your father... I couldn't be a damned sight happier."
Leena touched his hand with her own. "Thank you, Papa. I just wish... Mama and Markus were here."
Both their smiles lessened somewhat. Marina's death was a tragedy but she had always had heart problems. It was only a matter of time for her. It was Markus' death that was more unsettling. He hadn't been taken by illness. He had been conscripted into the ragtag Holy Crusade and had died in combat with Salganhuuk's army two years ago. Apparently Markus had been shot through the lungs by an arrow. When the army sent the body back home to Stoltz they gave him a good send off -- burning his corpse upon a pyre. Though the years had rolled on since his and Marina's death (and new additions to the Bacon family had been made, namely Gwendolyn and the-as-yet-unnamed baby girl she gave birth to six months ago with Ynoll) neither one of them had completely adjusted.
"...Don't you fret none now. Marina and Markus are with the Goddess." Ynoll told her. "She'll take good care of their souls."
Leena shut her eyes. "I know. I simply..."
"Listen to me. Do you know what your mother would have wanted most for you right now? And your blockhead brother at that? They would've wanted you to be happy. And that's just what I want too. Can you do that for me?"
"Of course, Papa."
He wasn't always this loving with her. Ynoll had never been an expressive man. But this was his little girl's wedding day and it all came rushing out like a torrent. It made Leena feel cheerful but also guilty. It wasn't a man she was marrying. There was a deception in all of this. They were now lying to more and more people because of this wedding and their relationship. Leena perhaps would have felt more guilty about that... except she knew that her alternatives were far worse. It was better this way. No one really could get hurt this way.
Ynoll tapped her on the shoulder one last time. "Well, I just came to see how you were. We better be heading off that darn chapel. You'd best get your skates on too, Leena. And don't you forget your reef crown."
She blinked. "Oh my goodness! I completely forgot about that! Thank you, Papa!"
Leena gathered up the train of her dress in bunches and trotted for the door on her one-inch heels. She ran down the length of the hall, passing by a few handmaidens who took the moments to compliment her, before she turned into Allyn's room and closed the door. The horseshoe-shaped reef crown had been left her last night after the town feast, thankfully it was still where she remembered it. The sorceress took it from the coffee table it was on and fitted it onto her hair and head. Then from the small adjacent bathroom that this room was connected to came Allyn Arceneaux himself. `He' was dressed handsomely in a sharp black suit with a red rose attached to its chest pocket. Allyn was fiddling with the cufflinks of his undershirt when he looked up and saw Leena standing there.
They stood silent and stared at each other, one taking in the beauty and charm of the other, until Allyn chuckled lightly and embraced her. "My God, Leena. You look absolutely stunning."
"As do you..." Then her cerulean eyes widened with alarm. "Wait, you are not supposed to see me in my wedding dress before the ceremony. They say it is bad luck."
Allyn took her by the shoulders. "Surely an educated woman like yourself does not believe in such balderdash and chicanery...! This is our day, Leena. Nothing is going to spoil it. Alright...?"
When Allyn smiled at her like that she couldn't contest anything he ever said to her. "Alright."
"Good. I will meet you at the chapel."
Fifteen minutes later Leena was exiting the wide glass doors of the River of Tam Hotel they had spent the night at. Her shoes clicked against the cobblestone ground as she strode up to the horse drawn carriage that her father was waiting in. She opened the door and climbed in while a group of flower girls threw rose petals from their baskets before the carriage. The driver lashed his horse to drive it forward. The carriage took Leena and Ynoll across the city. Before long they passed through a public street that onlookers had been designated to stop at for a quick peek at the carriage. Hundreds of cheering men and women had turned up. Leena weakly waved to them from her side of the stagecoach. Ynoll grinned at the falseness of her smile. His daughter was not used to celebrity.
They were soon taken to their destination; Marsiglia Cathedral. The crowd gathered here was even larger than the ones before. Their cheers and laughter and whistling was inescapable. Leena and Ynoll got out together. The bride took good care not to scuff her absurdly long dress in the process. They approached the lofty arched doors of the cathedral. Suddenly the organs within sprung to life. The father and daughter pair entered the vestibule. They were greeted by priests who welcomed them. They had to wait a moment for all the guests to arrive but that did not take long. And soon the wedding dirge sounded out across the entire cathedral through the organ's pipes. There was a children's choir in the main chapel. They sung like angels to the music.
It was then that Ynoll walked Leena into the chapel. Every guest on either side of the dell rose from their benches. Many had gathered there, including Gwendolyn, Lord Applebottom and his six wives, Fraust Schroedinger, and somewhere in the group, Grandora Praxedes. They each had a Tome of Sohrab in their hands for their ceremony. They all turned and saw the bride enter. Ynoll walked her all the way up to the pulpit, where Allyn stood regally with his best man (a burly but kind soldier by the name of Graig) and the highest ranking priest in the city of Freikdebard, Bishop Ptolemy. Allyn and Leena smiled affectionately at each other. They then stood together in front of the grey-haired Bishop. The guests sat back down when the choir and organ music stopped. The Bishop quickly tapped his head, both shoulders and then his lower chest (the gesture of the Goddess) before he spoke softly to his flock.
"Lo and behold the grace of the Mother Goddess, that in the time of war and pestilence, two people so right and so special to each other, might find a connection. When the Mother Goddess summoned up the vile tyrant of Maelkutuzai she did so in order to produce this world in which we sit and listen. It is her eternal sacrifice that we exist... surrounded by darkness of Maelkutuzai or no. The marriage of a man and a woman in that darkness is surely the greatest possible declaration of the grace of the Goddess. So let us turn to Hymn 309 of the Tome of Sohrab to offer her our thanks."
There was a brief chorus of paper-flicking and wood creaking as the 200+ guests stood up from the benches again and flicked though the pages of the Tomb of Sohrab in search of its hymn section. Most of them eventually found it. It was called The Grace of the Mother Goddess. A few moments later the mighty organ pipes and the pleasant children's choir added their beauty to the congregation's voices;
In all things lies Maelkutuzai
For whom souls live and die
Feel no fear nor should you fly
The Goddess hears your cry!
Those who live by sin and avarice
His evils sows your skin
But feel great comfort in her bliss
The Goddess is thy kin!
In all things lies Maelkutuzai
For whom souls live and die
Feel no fear nor should you fly
The Goddess hears your cry!
Chandalarah* is the quake of you
Take heed of sword and bow
For when our world cements askew
There is but one mere foe!
In all things lies Maelkutuzai
For whom souls live and die
Feel no fear nor should you fly
The Goddess hears your cry!
Darkness is no match for light
Her war is all but won
See Maelkutuzai's great fright
The beast will soon be done!
In all things lies Maelkutuzai
For whom souls live and die
Feel no fear nor should you fly
The Goddess hears your cry!
(A/N: Chandalarah is this this world's equivalent of hell.)
The organs and choir ceased as the congregation did. Bishop Ptolemy delicately told them to `be seated' and so they all sat down. Attention once more returned to Allyn and Leena. The Bishop adjusted his white collar before continuing with the ceremony. He revealed to all his sermon. More hymns praising the Goddess and spurning Maelkutuzai were sung. Slightly less than an hour later though it reached its crux.
"And now. Allyn, repeat after me -- I Allyn Seville Arceneaux..."
The Dark Lion Prince took hold of Leena's hands and gazed deeply into her eyes. With every single word dripping of his love for her, he recounted what Bishop Ptolemy stated. "...`I Allyn Seville Arceneaux'..."
"Doth take thee, Leena Anne Bacon..."
"...`Doth take thee, Leena Anne Bacon'..."
"To be my loving wedded wife..."
"...`To be my loving wedded wife'..."
"In sickness and in health, in riches and in ruin, in happiness and in sadness, in darkness and in light, until the Goddess doth take us."
"...`In sickness and in health, in riches and in ruin, in happiness and in sadness, in darkness and in light, until the Goddess doth take us'..."
Allyn's grip of Leena's small gloved hands tightened. He meant every single word, she knew that. And so Bishop Ptolemy turned to Leena herself and gestured for her to make her vows. "Now Leena, repeat after me -- I Leena Anne Bacon."
Her more petite voice followed his as she smiled up at her love. "...'I Leena Anne Bacon'..."
"Doth take thee, Allyn Seville Arceneaux..."
"...`Doth take thee, Allyn Seville Arceneaux'..."
"To be my loving wedded husband..."
She paused a little. "...`To be my loving wedded... husband'..."
"In sickness and in health, in riches and in ruin, in happiness and in sadness, in darkness and in light, until the Goddess doth take us."
"...`In sickness and in health, in riches and in ruin, in happiness and in sadness, in darkness and in light, until the Goddess doth take us'..."
The Bishop turned to Graig. "The rings, please."
Allyn's best man nodded and reached into his back pocket. He lingered there and withdrew nothing. Then he checked his other pockets. Nothing. The Bishop, Allyn and Leena all cast him concerned gazes, until Graig snatched the ring box out of his pocket with a smirk, exclaiming, "Just kidding". An irritated Allyn snatched the box from him, while the Bishop exhaled and a more composed Leena giggled lightly. It did not detract from the moment however. Allyn and Leena slipped their rings onto each other before the congregation, the bishop, and the Goddess.
"In as much as these two Goddess-faring souls have consented, I now pronounce you; husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
They did just that.
The entire congregation (aside from one) stood up and applauded the couple as they kissed, with hearty cheers and whistles. The organs and the children's choir once more struck up melodious holy music to fully acknowledge the new Mr and Mrs. Allyn Arceneaux. A troop of handmaidens filled out from one of the chapel's many antechambers. They took hold of the train of Leena's wedding dress. The Dark Lion Prince and his bride turned and walked back down the aisle amid the ovation they received from the hundreds of attending. They made their way through the outer hall and then out of Marsiglia Cathedral entirely. As the bride and groom appeared the hundreds of Freikdebard's citizens gathered in the surrounding square clapped and cheered for them. More flower girls threw more rose petals at the cobblestone ground their feet trod upon. Allyn and Leena waved to them (Allyn perhaps having more heart for it) until they climbed into the waiting horse-drawn carriage. The noise was muted somewhat when they got inside.
"I had no idea we were so popular...!" Allyn joked as he shut the door behind him.
Leena reached across the seat and kissed him. "...I love you."
"I love you too," he brought her close. "Mrs. Arceneaux."
The carriage took them back to the River of Tam Hotel, for two reasons. One was for Leena to collect her bouquet and change into a more manageable dress for the reception, and the other was to give all the guests enough time to get there. It did not take long for her to do that however and very soon she and Allyn were back in the carriage heading for the reception. It was being held in the Wolcott Banquet Hall, the most prestigious of its kind in all of Freikdebard. Less than two hours after the ceremony Allyn and Leena were in attendance of the soirée. They climbed out of the carriage and greeted the two servants awaiting them at the door. Allyn shook hands with them and walked inside with Leena at her side. And through a series of rooms they were led to the massive dining hall in which dozens of large circular tables (adorned with fine dinner cloth, polished silverware, gold-embroidered china and crystalline wine glasses) had been placed. The core guests of the wedding had been seated around them (ten to a table). A small musical ensemble consisting of a harpist, a songstress and a flute player struck up a tune as Allyn and Leena entered the room. Once again they were bombarded with applause. They soon sat down to the main table -- at which Ynoll, Gwendolyn (with their little baby) and Schroedinger were. Noble old butlers entered and poured the guests glasses of champagne while their respective meals (four portions only, entrée, consommé, main course and dessert) were brought to them. Speeches were made. The first was Graig, who sat by a table of fellow soldiers. He stood up and rapped his wine glass with a spoon to gather everyone's attention, and then spoke.
"Hey there, everyone," Graig was gormless but warm. "I'm not much big speeches or nothing, so... uh, I'll try and keep this as brief as I can to prevent me from embarrassing myself..."
There was light laughter. Graig continued.
"...Uh, I just wanted to say that... these two over their look really great together. And that, uh... I'm really happy for the both of them. I've only known Allyn for two years but I can honestly tell you that he is among the greatest men any of you will ever meet. He's noble, a great fighter and a true friend, but also good-hearted and decent in a way I've never seen from any man before. I'm proud that he's my friend. And I'm proud that he's found a good woman. You know, in this life, its so hard to find true love, and when I look at those two I think, `they've got it'. They're the lucky ones. And as people we have two options. We can either resent them for it or be happy as heck for them. I choose the latter. So I would like all of you to raise your glasses, including that sleepy old gentleman in the corner who seems to have already drunk his libation..."
There was some more laughter amongst the guests as Graig pointed to that individual. They all raised their glasses. Graig tipped his to the happy couple. "A toast; to the new Mr and Mrs Allyn Arceneaux. May the Goddess bless you with health, happiness, prosperity, and many a blushing baby."
At the mention of children Leena frowned a little.
"Here, here!" Shouted the heartier men of the tables. Many more speeches were made to the guests, including ones by Ynoll and Schroedinger (who was very much like a substitute father for Allyn) which further complimented the couple. Even Lord Applebottom had a few words to say, although his was a speech more dedicated to himself, speaking of his role in organizing things and how he saw the wedding as a symbol of the harmony that existed within the walls of his city. When most of the speeches were brought to a close however, and the dessert plates began to be handed out to the guests, Leena excused herself.
Allyn saw her stand up and asked, "Where are you going?"
"To relieve myself, my love. I shan't be long."
He nodded and she went on her way. Leena exited the main part of the banquet hall and stepped out into the corridor. She remembered where the lavatories were from rehearsal dinner so she simply followed her memory and that took her upstairs to them. She pushed the door open to walk inside she and leaned over one of the rectangular washbasins built against the wall. She heaved a sigh. Graig's talk of children had hit her hard. With everything going on Leena hadn't even thought about it. How would she explain not being able to have children to her father? Twenty years from now when he was still asking questions about it, what would be her reply? That she was barren? It would break his heart. And yet what of Annemarie/Allyn? Did she want children as well? It boggled Leena's mind. How could she not have recognized this up until now?
The sorceress sighed once more. She had to calm herself down. So she twisted one of the golden taps and splashed some of its water against her face. It had something of a cooling effect. And Leena then took a protracted look at herself in the wide rectangular mirror of that bathroom. Then, through the reflection in the mirror, she saw one of the cubicle doors behind her open. Her cerulean eyes flashed with alarm when Grandora walked out of it. Leena span around and froze like a statue. She had forgotten that Allyn had sent her an invitation. The Dean of Freikdebard University approached her student with a flat, unreadable stare. She was dressed in a pale grey dress. Such zestless colours suited her well.
"...Dean Praxedes..." Leena fumbled.
Grandora said nothing.
"I... I should be getting back to the gathering..."
As she turned to leave Grandora swiftly reached for her wrist and held it sharp. Leena was dragged back toward her with a slap of their breasts. The older woman's free hand seized around her waist and held the straining younger woman in place. Leena tried desperately not to look into this woman's eyes but could not break free. Grandora might have been a retired sorceress but she was certainly no weakling. The more powerful woman barked angrily,
"Are you truly content to be his whore?"
Leena balked. "...How dare you...?"
"Do you honestly believe that someone so dense as a soldier could make a woman such as you happy?" She shouted. "Is that what you believe? You delude yourself!"
"Ugh!" Leena struggled to get free. "...What is it you want of me?!"
Grandora's eyes softened. "Your love...! I have loved you since the first moment I laid eyes on you. I love everything about you. The way you speak, the way you laugh, the way you cry, the way you dance. I cherish those things...! You are my beloved, Leena! I desire you more than I have ever desired anything or anyone in my life! And I hate the Dark Lion Prince for stealing you from me!"
That sudden burst of emotion loosened Grandora's strength enough for Leena to break free of her grasp. She stumbled away. Before Grandora could say or do anything else, she fled the lavatories and ran back downstairs to the banquet hall.
She was forced to paint a smile on her face for the rest of the evening.
I was now beginning to see with full clarity the events that would eventually unfold. The element of Allyn Arceneaux's story that had confused me most, namely the tension between Leena and Grandora, was now abundantly unambiguous. But I had to admit some surprise at it. I had never thought that a person who was spoken of so highly by the university's governors could have been so poisonous. But that did not taint my trust of Old Leena's story. I was not sure why or how but knew she was telling me the truth. It explained a lot of what was to happen.
Old Leena sighed at her memories. "...She was a foul woman."
"She could not relinquish her feelings for you."
"Of course not. And it was her tenacity that frightened me most. I was paralysed by it. Even after I married Annemarie... her feelings did not diminish. If anything they grew. In retrospect I should have said something. If I had of done my Annemarie might still be with me..."
I stopped writing notes a moment. "...Is this the part when you..."
"Yes..." She confirmed it. "...At the time I had no choice. It was either that, or..."
"Go on." I urged her.
I saw Old Leena's frail shoulders rise and fall whilst she exhaled once more. "Alright. It all occurred less than two months after I had gotten married to Annemarie. It was close to graduation at that point, so the entire university was awash with talks of their plans for the summer. I too was looking forward to my graduation. It would give me more time to spend with Annemarie. But then it happened..."
There were only three weeks left until graduation.
The lectures had grown more sombre at Freikdebard University however. There was only one real reason for this. Reports had filtered in from the north that the barbarian armies had conquered another major city. This time it was Elk A'ltaign. The third biggest city in the northern part of the Empire, but unlike Ban-Fai Pan it was very heavily guarded. Its ramparts had been torn down like paper and the hordes had overrun the city. It was a massive blow to the entire Empire, but more so to the students of this university. About 31% of the student body originated from Elk A'ltaign. Their friends and families lived there and were now at the mercy of Salganhuuk's onslaught. It was all the more shocking when the news that the squad of Angel Knights sent to help protect the place had all been killed. That was quite a tremendous loss in and of itself. Fraust Schroedinger had scorned the Empire's entire handling of the situation. Because the Imperial Army's Sub-Parliament had taken so long to organize the assessment of the military's potential deployment (thus far it had been delayed by at least two months) he could not send Allyn over to Rork to take command of the Holy Crusade and alleviate some of the stress on the northern provinces. The delay was costing people their lives.
The city of Freikdebard however was afraid on an entirely larger scale.
This was because a pattern had been deduced about the barbarian horde's actions. They sent in the weakest groups of their largest forces (normally the reserve infantry of the Raelbuughak Tribe) to plunder small towns and villages and reap the spoils back to the main army, which trudged along at a much slower pace and gradually struck the cities. Though this tactic made the invasion much slower than it ought to have been; it provided intelligence about the capabilities of the resistance of the northern folk to Salganhuuk, as well as information regarding the best possible layout of his army's movements; and better yet it guaranteed that the bulk of Salganhuuk's armies were well-rested, well-fed, and combat ready. What this amounted to was the key element of the itinerant barbarian hordes -- they never burned themselves out. Despite their savagery they were seemingly capable of understanding that if they did too much too soon then they would suffer the consequences later. This tactic also proved that the barbarian attacks were no random occurrence (as conservative men like Lord Applebottom had been suggesting) but a very legitimate and highly systematic barbarian attempt to conquer the whole of the northern region.
This technique of the barbarian armies, which some had been calling the `amorphous trident', was as said before, putting fear into the people of Freikdebard. This was because, if the predictions were correct, Freikdebard would be the main barbarian army's next point of conquest. Elk A'ltaign was less than thirty miles from here. The only thing that could have slowed the barbarian's progression southward to Freikdebard now was the thick swampland that existed in the northeast -- between the two cities. That fact did nothing to calm the fears of the people of the city.
These facts had contributed to the quite cold and morose nature of the lecture Leena was presently in. The professor giving the lecture, Dr. Morneau, spoke dejectedly about the elemental significance of the water magiks in relation to healing practices and medicine. He droned on and on and on about the subject and even opened the floor to questions but he found no scintillating replies from his students. Eventually he just let them go, five minutes earlier than usual. When class ended Leena packed her writing feather and scroll away into a shoulder-held sack and left the lecture hall. Despite the crestfallen climate her peers were now espousing she was somewhat less concerned. That was merely because her thoughts had been diverted toward Annemarie/Allyn. Annemarie had purchased a small house for the two of them on the southern outskirts of the city. They were going to live together there. It was only a temporary place to live. If Leena passed her final exams then she would be sent to Teruvia for Angel Mage training the following year. But they wanted to be as close as possible to each other now. As soon as the Imperial Army's Sub-Parliament planned how the military would be set out against the barbarians, Annemarie would take control over the Holy Crusade. And while the Sub-Parliament was taking their sweet time, that could have happened any day soon. Thus Leena felt it was important for the two of them to at least live together as a proper married couple while they still had the chance to.
The black-haired sorceress strode down one of the university's many marble-floored hallways and came to her dorm room. She opened the door and walked inside. It was empty and all four of the beds had been made. Her dorm mates must have all been in lectures. Leena did not care much. They were not friends of hers and they still had little in the way of affection for her. All she did was go about packing her things. Her books, her scrolls, her notes, her magical tools, her spare university robes, as well as the few bits of jewellery and random items she had collected as a student here for the past few years. It was not much and it all fit into three sacks. A porter would collect them in the evening. With all of her things packed away Leena spent her last few moments in there checking her draws to make sure nothing had been left behind.
There was a knock at the door.
"You may come in," Leena said obliviously.
Whoever it was opened the door and walked inside without introducing themselves. Leena was too busy to notice that. It only became suspect when she heard the turning of a lock of metal. The young woman blinked and turned around. She could only gasp when she saw Grandora Praxedes standing at the doorway with another cold stare -- she had locked the two of them in together.
"W-what is the meaning of this?" Questioned Leena.
Grandora walked toward her. "You shall not leave."
She went to one of the bags that Leena had packed and tore it open with a psychotic shriek. Her hands reached inside and she tossed the clothes she found inside to the floor, screaming, "You shall not leave!" incessantly. Before long she was banging her fists against the bag and the floor, shrieking and howling, tears dripping from her eyes.
"You cannot leave...!" She wailed miserably. "I will not allow it!"
Leena was so shocked she was terrified. Before she even recognized herself doing it, the girl ran to the door to try to flee. Grandora dragged herself out of the stupor of her outburst in time to see her try it. She surged up and flew like a woman possessed across the room to stop her. Leena yelped and saw stars when Grandora tackled her to the ground. She landed on her front with a thud. A desperate contest of strength began. Grandora climbed her way up a struggling Leena, applying herself with thunder and fury, until she straddled the girl over her thighs. With one mighty swing she swung the smaller woman around 180-degrees onto her back. Grandora resettled her toned thighs around Leena's petite hips and ribs. With a hurricane's speed she grabbed both of Leena's wrists and pressed them down into the polished pinewood floorboard and held them there. Leena's legs kicked and thrashed underneath her with as much range as her robes would allow her but to no avail. In her struggle she looked up at her psychotic teacher. She had a perverse, crooked smile on her face, one so saturated with lust and longing that it made her look devoid of intelligence.
Leena felt the force of that sexual hunger first hand when Grandora smothered her lips with a powerful, possessive kiss. Her azure eyes widened into saucers. Her small hands clenched into fists. Her current surroundings all evaporated from her consciousness. All she was aware of this woman on top of her, kissing her. Leena's sobs of discomfort were muffled by the crazed Grandora's lips. The older woman groaned with pleasure and thrust her lengthy tongue into her mouth. Leena winced at the feeling of it; probing her inner cheeks and flicking at her own. Leena continued to struggle. Grandora seemed to welcome this at the lower half of her body. The rocking at Leena's stomach made it caress the area at her crotch. It made her groan and grind even harder.
Then suddenly Grandora broke the kiss. They both drew in breath with a gasp. Saliva dripped down the corners of their mouths. Leena was so stunned she couldn't think straight. Then Grandora gripped the front of her captive's robes and tore it open, causing her buxom breasts to rise and fell. Leena squealed at the exposure while Grandora grinned at the spectacle. Then Leena's surprise transformed into revulsion when Grandora lowered her dripping open mouth toward the pink flesh of her nipple. Leena slammed her eyes shut and struggled to contain herself when Grandora's lips slurped at the cerise nub. It went rigid between her lips. The Dean suckled at it with abandon. She was like an animal, the rush and intensity of it all striking her. Leena, her body shaking, her hair splashed about her shoulders and face, could only lie back in horror and accept this lunatic's groping and pawing of her... touching her in way only Annemarie had ever done.
When Grandora's lips finally parted with Leena's left nipple... it was drenched in her saliva.
Then suddenly the logic returned to her. Leena watched as Grandora started muttering ancient magik arte chants to herself. Almost immediately the linen of the four beds began to move on their own. They each twirled themselves around until they appeared like four taut tentacles. One end of each fastened itself to the headboard of its respective bed and the other ends shot out toward Leena. They moved like serpents. The first `cloth tentacle' wrapped itself around her left wrist and the second wrapped itself around her right one; while the third cloth tentacle wove around her left ankle and the forth did the same with the right ankle. The four cloth tentacles yanked her limbs in four different directions so that she was spread eagled on the floor -- and at Grandora's mercy.
Any confusion Leena had had up to now was gone. In its wake there was only cold terror and a stark realization. A thumping heart and a rush of adrenalin now did the thinking for her when she screamed, "Help! Someone please help me!"
"...Be silent!" Grandora furiously slapped her across the face. Leena's face was smacked to one side. Already her cheek was enflamed red. She went quiet. And Grandora did not waste this opportunity. She went about roughly groping the girl below her until she wormed her way back down the girl's body and hovered at the space between her hips.
She was enraptured.
But because of that she failed to notice something boiling within Leena's normally peaceful blue eyes. That something was rage. While Grandora roughly tore open the bottom half of her robes and tried to wrestle her underwear off, Leena's eyes thinned out with anger and hatred that she had never before felt. It overtook her like a storm. The indignation and the violation of this... it infuriated her as nothing had ever done before. Before she knew it, as though she had no control over it, a surging magical flame formed around her right arm. It burned the cloth tentacle shackling that wrist into cinders. Grandora heard the sound and looked up. And she do in time to see Leena toss that ball of fire straight into her molester's face.
The whole dorm wing heard the ear-piercing, bloodcurdling scream that echoed from Leena's room at that moment. Grandora staggered back and toppled over. Her right side of her face was scarred beyond recognition. Twisted and bloodied flesh mixed with her charred veins. Her eyeball had been burned out of its socket. What remained inside was only bloody, blackened tissue leaking across her cheek.
"You contemptible bitch...!" Howled the Dean.
Leena scrambled to untie herself from the remaining three cloth tentacles and bolted for the door. She unlocked it and ran out into the corridor in her torn clothing, breasts exposed and all. Before she could even make to the end of the corridor, Grandora lurched weakly out of her dorm's doorway and pointed her out.
"Guards! Seize her!"
It would have been completely illogical to teach the magical artes to young men and women without expecting at least one of them to eventually misuse those powers. Because of this the old governors whom had founded this school created a small `militia' of counter-resistance magik users. Essentially their role was to keep the peace on school grounds and apprehend anyone seen to be abusing the magik artes. To distinguish themselves from others they wore very particular clothing -- a heavy black cloak which obscured every part of their bodies aside from the face; and an oval-shaped ivory mask which had golden magik-resistant symbols on them. The official name of their group was the Magic Containment Squad but the students of Freikdebard University had nicknamed them `Death Clowns' as a joke on their ghoulish form of dress.
There were two `Death Clowns' on hand when Leena ran from her dorm room. They immediately did as Dean Praxedes asked. They threw their hands forward as Leena ran toward the opposite end of that long corridor. Ancient magical chants were recited by them and cosmic force cause Leena to freeze in place. Invisible hands prevented her from moving an inch. She looked down. There was a wide circle of runic symbols glowing a ghastly green colour that surrounded her below. Leena knew it to be a paralysing spell that impeded movement. It also stopped her from speaking.
The two Death Clowns ran up to a now disfigured Grandora. Some of the students in the nearby dorms had heard the commotion and now opened their doors to see what was going on. They wretched with disgust when they saw Grandora's mutilated face. She ignored all of them though and hobbled down the corridor with her Death Clowns helping her walk. When she reached the immobile Leena she sneered with contempt.
"What happened, Dean Praxedes?" Asked the 2nd Death Clown.
Grandora pointed at her. "That daughter of a whore! That Leena Anne Arceneaux! She attacked me with aggressive magik artes that are forbidden on school grounds! I want her arrested right this instant!"
Leena wanted to scream with all her heart that it was not her fault. That this woman had been sexually harassing her for months and just now had attempted to rape her. That it was self-defence and nothing else. But she could not utter a word. The spell used to bind her by the Death Clowns was an advanced one. It was the same kind that hunters used to trap dragons and monsters in the wilderness. It was well beyond anything Leena could have broken with her own magical ingenuity. What's worse was that she knew they would all be on Grandora's side. She would deny what she had tried to do to Leena and they would believe her. Who would believe the student over the teacher? Because of all of that Leena was unable to resist or state her case as the two Death Clowns took her by the arms. More runic symbols appeared underneath her feet -- but this time the ring was large enough to encircle both her and the two Death Clowns. The runic ring them rose up from the ground and swallowed the three of them into itself. It was the mystical art of teleportation.
While some of the students helped walk Dean Praxedes to the university infirmary, Leena was shunted off to the Freikdebard Gaol. Her only thoughts at that point were of Annemarie.
"She attempted to rape you?" I was stunned. "That was why you attacked her...?"
Old Leena nodded.
Now all the puzzle pieces fit. In the story I had learned, Leena was said to have become jealous of Grandora Praxedes' prestige and attempted to kill her. But that never made any sense to me. How could a former Angel Mage be bested in combat by an undergraduate student? Leena was very talented in the artes, yes, but she had had no combat training of any kind. There was no way a woman as powerful as Grandora could have been damaged like that by a mere student -- unless she was doing something that distracted her so much that she failed to see it coming. It all made sense.
And then I realized that I was thrown by what I had heard.
The right honourable Grandora Praxedes was a pervert and yet the woman she abused was the one who paid the price for it. It was precisely this kind of thing that the woman's revolution wanted to stamp out; fear of speaking up and fear of not being listened to when someone, man or woman, was sexually abusive. Had I known this was the case I might have thought twice about asking Old Leena to stir up all these painful memories from deep inside herself. It must have been torture for her. And any hostility she had given me because of my status as a student at Freikdebard University, I now fully understood and even sympathized with.
Who would not resent us for what we had put her through?
I stopped writing. But not because I had told myself to.
"I am sorry, Leena..."
The old sorceress shook her head from side to side. "You needn't apologize. You were not responsible for what that perverse woman did to me. I look back now... and I wonder if what happened to myself and Annemarie was punishment from the Goddess. A punishment for our mendaciousness... a deceit that we even had the audacity to take into one of her cathedrals. I know not the answer. All I know... is my eternal sadness."
I blinked. "...Eternal sadness...?"
"Yes. For you see... that moment... it was the beginning of the end for Annemarie..."
Leena spent a day within one of the murky cells of Freikdebard Gaol before she was seen by anyone. She sat silently on a dusty mattress strewn misshapen over a broken bed. The room itself was ghastly. The walls were small and damp, covered with moss and cracks. Previous prisoners had carved threatening and sick comments into them from as far back as 170 years ago. The floor was as damp and uneven as the walls. Mice and insects scurried along it. It stank of mould and urine. And very little light managed to worm its way in. Light only came in from two points; the barred hole in the upper left corner of the cell or the slit that was fixed into its thick iron door.
Just as she had been seen by no one, Leena had not been offered anything to eat or drink. Her stomach groaned its exasperation quite vocally. There was nothing she could do about it though. And just as no food had been offered her, no clothes had been supplied either. Leena sat in the same tattered robes that Grandora had ripped apart yesterday. It left her bosom and thighs exposed. Her cheek was still sore and sensitive from where Grandora had slapped her. Again there was nothing she could do about any of that. She already knew that the jailers of Freikdebard Gaol had written magic-resistant runes on the doors which prevented sorcery from being used within the cells. There was no escape for her.
All she could do was wrap herself up in a ball and will herself not to start crying again. She rocked back and forth to take her mind off of her surroundings and off of what Grandora Praxedes had did. It didn't help much.
Then she heard the metal scrapping against more metal.
The door barring passage out of the cell was unlocked and then opened. Leena looked and saw a guard step back and give way for someone behind him. That person was Grandora Praxedes herself. Leena sneered angrily, the flame of the lanterns in the dell now illuminating the dried tear tracks that were running down her flushed cheeks. The older woman walked inside the cell and frowned at the captive. Only half of that frown could be seen however. The right side of her face was obscured by a thick black veil suspended from a cap.
"Have you any idea what you've done?" Grandora said suddenly.
Leena said nothing.
"You fool. If only you had listened to me... this could have been avoided. You have destroyed yourself. You will be shown no leniency. Your place at Freikdebard University will be made forfeit. Your internship with the Imperial Order of Angel Mages will be revoked. And you shall be brought to trial for assault. You might be spending the next four years in this place. Do you realize that? Have you any idea?"
Still Leena said nothing.
That irritated Grandora even further. "You are a fool and you shall suffer for it."
Then something happened.
Both Leena and Grandora blinked when they heard something in the distance. It was a like a rumbling. It happened and lasted for a few moments and then it passed. All went quiet. And then it happened yet again a mere six seconds later. The rumbling was louder the second time around. It even caused the damp walls of Leena's cell to shake. Then there was silence again. But that silence was broken when an iron door in distance slammed open. The guard standing at the cell door yelled, "what in the name of the Goddess is going on?" before another voice (a stronger yet more effeminate one) shouted "Darkness Blade!" and the entire floor shook like a bamboo tree in a heavy wind.
A surging gust of bright amethyst energy, spiritual energy, thundered through the dell. Grandora and Leena shielded their eyes from the immense intensity of its purple light. The guard at the door was thrown off his feet and hurled all the way down the corridor until his back slammed against the wall with a sickly thud. By the time his armoured body hit the ground he was unconscious. The light faded. The walls of the corridor were now heavily cracked and all the flames of the lanterns had been snuffed out, leaving the place in virtual darkness.
Leena and Grandora were equally confused.
But that did not last long.
A callous frown crossed Grandora's face when she saw the Dark Lion Prince walking down the steps on the other end of the corridor. His sword Illudia was unsheathed and his body fully decked out in the silver and gold Angel Knight armour. An infuriated expression of wrath substituted Allyn's habitually joyful one.
"Where is my wife?!" He roared.
Leena heard his voice and ran to the doorway to see him. Grandora immediately ran after the girl and snatched her in the corridor. One of her arms snaked around Leena's throat while the other held Leena's left wrist behind her back. Grandora held her in place as Allyn approached, his blade crackling with his spiritual energy.
"Come to save her, have we?" Grandora jibed. "You Angel Knights are all the same! Braun before brain!"
Allyn pointed his claymore at her. "Take your hands off my wife!"
"Face it, Angel Knight! You do not have what is necessary to protect her! I do not care who sponsors you, be it Fraust Schroedinger or the Emperor himself! Look at what you have done! You have corrupted her! You have made her foolish and impetuous! But I shall correct your taint! She must suffer somewhat before I can accept her again, granted, but I can wait! No woman so precious as this should be wasted on someone as loathsome as you!"
Grandora's speech bought Leena some time. Time enough to slip her left arm free and thrust her elbow into Grandora's stomach. Leena broke free as the older woman lurched forward and she rolled back into her cell to take cover. Immediately Allyn charged at Grandora down the corridor. But the sorceress did not cower. As soon as she saw Allyn coming she thrust out her hands and muttered an ancient magical chant. A swirling vortex of compact but equally intense winds opened up in front of her. The repelling force of those winds slowed Allyn's charge into a trawl. He could only inch forward slowly as the lashing winds tore down the dell. It striped the walls of its grey paint. It flicked up clouds of dust and the little rats and stones littering the floor rose with them.
Try as he might to hold his own against that wind it was too much. Allyn was blown off his metal boots and thrown to the ground behind him. Leena balked when she heard his loud grunt and the clank of his armour. Grandora sneered and collapsed her wind vortex magik arte. "What did I say, Angel Knight...? Is it beginning to sink in now? I am the granddaughter of Kristopher Milliard Praxedes, the greatest sorcerer of them all! Did you truly believe that someone as irrelevant as you could defeat me?! Hah! Dark Lion Prince indeed!"
Then she noticed something. When the Dark Lion Prince turned over and tried to stand up, there was a visible crack in his silver breastplate. That crack displayed a deep concave between two restrained mounds of flesh -- breasts.
Grandora was astounded. "...A woman...? You are a... woman...? Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! This is priceless! Does Leena know? Better yet, does the Order of Angel Knights know? Ha! Of course they do not know. Women are not allowed to be Angel Knights...! I smell a deception...! What would that precious surrogate father of yours have to say if he learned that his `son' was in fact his `daughter'...?"
Allyn wiped the blood from `his' mouth. "...Out... of my way...!"
"You dare to rise to your feet? No matter. I will put you down again, Angel K-" Grandora was cut off mid-sentence when a gust of fire magic came flying her way from Leena's cell. She scowled and called forth another wind vortex. Magical flames crashed against magical winds and created a vacuum of fire in the dell. Grandora stepped away from it, unable to control it, and watched as the fiery squall burst into zipping embers. The moss-covered and paint-chipped stone walls caught fire. It surged up swiftly and blocked Grandora's pass. With her held back by fire, Leena quickly ran out of her cell and into the arms of her beloved. They embraced.
Grandora sneered at the sight from beyond the crackling of the fire. "This is not over, Dark Lion Prince! I know your secret! Leena will never be yours! Do you hear me? Never!"
Allyn ignored that and focused on Leena. "My love, we must flee!"
"I know! Come quickly!"
The two of them ran up the stairs with Allyn leading the way. They ascended to one of the higher levels of the gaol where there were more guards on the prowl. Allyn forcefully cut them down. One powerful slash flowed from another with grace and preciseness until every man attacking them was gargling a bloody death on the floor. Allyn and Leena continued down that hall and ran through the smoking holes in the wall that Allyn's Darkness Blade attacks had created. Those craters in the wall led all the way to the outside. It was night and it was chill. So chill that their breathing was visible in the air. Regardless, Allyn led Leena to his horse. Its reigns had been tied to the pole of a night lantern. He untied her steed and leapt up onto its saddle.
"Come quickly now!" Allyn said, extending her hand to his hand to her.
Leena took the hand and let the stronger one pull her up into the saddle behind her. She wrapped her arms around the Angel Knight for stability. As soon as Leena was secure behind him, Allyn whipped at the reigns and the horse galloped off into the distance. They left Freikdebard Gaol behind quickly enough. Fortunately it had been built near the city limits. Allyn rode the horse across the cobblestone streets until they could both see one of the gates of the city walls. The guards there saw the Dark Lion Prince riding towards their gate and heard her yell, "Open it you fools!". They did not have the authority to question her so they scrambled to do what they were told. They fumbled to quickly lift the block of wood holding the arched doors secure and then pulled them open. Their horse hurtled past them. The urban stone and wood of the city of Freikdebard was left in their wake when they verged out into the wide and wind-tossed grasslands surrounding it.
They were somewhat safer out here.
Nevertheless Allyn did not let up on her horse. She kept its stride fierce until the walls of Freikdebard grew into the backdrop of hills and became no more. Leena dared look behind her. Before long she could no longer see the city.
"...Where are we going...?"
"Back to Stoltz," Allyn told her. "The authorities in Freikdebard shall send search parties to fetch us in the morning. We must keep a low profile for now and then leave again in the morning. I suggest we head west toward Rork. It will be harder for them to find us in such a large place. If I relinquish my guise as Allyn Arceneaux we should be able to avoid attention."
Leena wept against her back. "...I am so sorry, Annemarie..."
"Why do you weep?"
"Certainly I weep! Must you become a fugitive for me? Is that the fate you envisioned for yourself?"
Allyn whipped at the reigns again. "My goals in life were to become a knight and marry the woman I love. I did both. My existence has meaning now. And you are my wife. I will protect and sacrifice for you as I said I would when we shared vows before a priest. As soon as I had heard that you had been arrested I rode to the gaol to free you. Do not doubt me."
Leena smiled at that, despite the tears in her eyes. "You wish not to know why I was arrested?"
"You attacked Dean Praxedes with fire," Allyn explained. "But I can presume quite accurately why. Did she force herself upon you?"
"...H-how did you know?"
"I saw the way she looked at you in the gaol. And I saw the hatred she had for me in her eye. We have never even exchanged a conversation with each other. Why else would she hate me so if not for being with you? There is also your torn clothing. It is obvious what happened. But I simply cannot understand why none would lend you an ear..."
Leena frowned. "That is how it is... with the upper classes."
It unnerved her. But the two rode on at that speed regardless for the next half hour or so. Then as the gap between them and Stoltz began to close, Leena noticed something in the distance. It was a plume of thick smoke rising from a sole point up ahead of them. Their horse galloped further along until the source of that smoke was revealed. Both Allyn and Leena gasped. It was coming from Stoltz. Houses were burning in its centre. They had no idea what was going on but rushed to the village to find out. But as they approached the wood wall of their hometown it became abundantly clear who did this. From those walls had been hung dead bodies. The corpses of men as old as eighty and girls as young as eight were nailed to walls, one through each hand and one through both feet -- like a crucifixion. Their ribcages had been sliced open and their innards had been left to dangle and fall to the grass below in bloody lumps and drips.
Leena shut her eyes in her horror. As Allyn's horse rode through the gate of the wall he knew who was behind this. "...Barbarians...!"
"Here in Stoltz?"
"Yes! We must move quickly!"
The ride through Stoltz revealed the true nature of the carnage to them. All of its houses had been ransacked. The doors had been broken off their hinges and the windows smashed. The valuables had been captured from them. The storehouses that kept the village's harvests and livestock had also been pillaged. And everything that did not have worth to them (toys, furniture, decorations, etc,) was simply destroyed. Its citizens fared no better. Across the streets lay dead bodies. Some of them dismembered, some of them beheaded, some of them disembowelled, some of them chopped in half. There were puddles of blood everywhere. The repugnant stink of blood and smoke was overpowering. Even the little children had not been spared that fate. Village progeny as young as three years lay dead; face-down in the dirt tracks. The spectacle was a self-same scene of Chandalarah. Leena had to resist the urge to regurgitate from the strength of it.
Then as they were ridding by a mill, Leena noticed an old man lying bloodied against a wall. But he was alive. "Annemarie, look...!"
He saw the man and pulled at the reigns of his horse to stop it proceeding any further. The both of them quickly dismounted and ran to the side of the ailing old peasant, speaking quickly.
"What happened here?!" Allyn shouted.
The old man coughed up blood. There was an arrowhead lodged in his chest. "...Angel... Knight. There was... a barbarian... group... about eighty... of them. They rode in... on horseback... six hours ago... and did this... killed everyone... and stole... all of the maidens... we couldn't stop... them..."
"Amorphous trident..." Seethed the Dark Lion Prince. "They must have sent out a small raiding party to loot the village and feed the main army's advancement. That means the hordes are less than a week's march from here... blast it!"
Leena focused on the old man. "Is there anyone left?"
"...No..." He answered with yet another bloody cough.
Allyn wondered. "What of the infidels? Are there any left in the village or have they all retreated?"
"...There are... five left... in the town square... burning everything... please... stop them..."
That was his last moment. Tears returned to Leena's eyes and the old man died in their arms. Allyn stood up with a scowl and unsheathed her sword, Illudia. "Such barbarism must not go unpunished...! I will not stand for this! Leena; find a place to hide! I will return for you when my business is concluded!"
"I shall not hide!" She declared as she laid the man to rest. "I am coming with you!"
"It is too dangerous! I cannot risk you being hurt!"
"And I cannot risk losing you after waiting three years for you to come back to me! I am coming! If you do not take me then I shall follow you!"
There was indecision and frustration on Allyn's part. But if her words were true then he had no choice. He nodded to her with a scowl then motioned for her to follow him back to the horse. Before they left however, Allyn noticed an abandoned bow and quiver (which had at least three arrows left in it). She took that weapon.
They mounted it again and then rode off down that dirt track to the centre-most point of the village. It took them only four minutes to reach the central set of buildings that existed within the heart of Stoltz. The savage lingering remnant of the riding party was there; taking torches to homes and setting them alight, illuminating their horrid faces in the darkness. They were a fearsome bunch -- dressed only in boots, loincloths, and pelts of fur that had been stripped from the skin of the woolly mammoths that trundled around the snowfields of Silesia. Their faces were painted with red and black war paint; a caked mixture of olive oil, dragon's blood and tree sap. Through their noses and lips were decorative bone piercing. They carried unsightly large and phallic weaponry... tremendous axes and mighty zweihander swords, all of which were sullied with blots of blood and fragments of bone. They were fearsome in appearance... even more so than Leena had wondered.
As soon as their horse rode in the plaza, and the barbarians noticed them, Allyn shouted, "Leena! Reach around me and take the reigns!"
"...Okay...!" She answered. She did just that.
That left Allyn free to attack with the bow and arrows he had procured. As Leena rode the horse around the edge of the piazza and the remaining barbarians ran towards them waving their weapons, Allyn withdrew an arrow from the quiver he'd tied to his back and pulled its tail end against the tenseness of the bow's twine. He released the twine and the arrow shot a barbarian through the neck. He fell to the floor with a gargling breath while the four others ran for them. Allyn retained his calm and took out and pulled back another arrow against the bow. He fired once more. It struck the second barbarian in the chest. He received a lung-shot death moments later. Allyn took the final arrow and fired it at the third of the rampaging barbarians. It shot straight into his temple and killed him instantly.
Horseback archery was an incredibly tricky science, especially when aiming at a moving target, but not a single shot of Allyn's was awry. That was the training of an Angel Knight in action.
Allyn then threw away the bow and yelled, "Leena! Let go of the reigns!"
She followed the command. The Dark Lion Prince then leapt off the saddle of the horse with a somersault that took him to the ground just twenty paces shy of the remaining two barbarians. Leena took hold of the horse's reigns again whilst Allyn unsheathed his blade and met them in combat. The forth savage came at her with a vertical slice. Allyn screamed a war cry and parried the zweihander's blow with her claymore. More erratic strikes came from the barbarian warrior. Allyn met each and everyone of the strokes with one of his own until he horizontally blocked another vertical one. The impact of their swords was echoing. But the Angel Knight quickly ducked down to the floor and sweep-kicked into his assailant's ankle. The barbarian fell into the dirt with a thud. Allyn rose up then thrust his sword down; straight through his clavicle. He pulled the now bloodied Illudia from his neck and attacked the fifth and final savage.
This one swung his axe around in tremendous loops. Allyn ducked and dove around them until he could slice upward and cut the pole of the weapon in two. The blade of the axe fell to the ground and he was disarmed. Allyn rotated his hips and thrust a powerful kick across his face, knocking blood from the savage's lips, and tossing him to the dust. The barbarian snarled angrily when the Angel Knight pressed Illudia's tip (still wet from the blood of his compatriot) against his chest.
"It is over..." Allyn said with a snarl. "...vile creature..."
In his native language the barbarian shouted,"...Alaem! Mak buk tish cuuyim tak tak! Tuui bangai! Makio! Makoi! Shungalai mobaeto buk tish, agiyo tak tak!"
"You bastard worshipper of Maelkutuzai!" The barbarian grunted when Allyn pushed his sword into his body and took his life without restraint. As he breathed his dying breath, Allyn took his blade from his carcass and waved the blood off of it. Leena rode over to him when they were all dead.
She dismounted. "Is that the last of them?"
"I think so," Replied Allyn. "Raiding parties always leave behind a few men to burn the village to the ground once they are done pillaging it. I do not think we need to worry about them returning here. It is Freikdebard they will strike next... even faster than Lord Schroedinger expected. They must have found an easier way to traverse the swamplands in the northeast."
"So what do we do?"
The Dark Lion Prince sheathed his sword. "Firstly we must put out the fires before they spread. We will have to spend the night here for this is the only place the raiding party is not likely to be. I think that by morning they will have reconvened with their main army to hand the spoils of the raid over. That will be the best time to flee Stoltz. But we can no longer rely on Rork. If the barbarians are this far ahead so soon then they will likely be at Rork's doorstep within the month. We will head southeast and find a town there to take refuge in."
Allyn sighed and brought Leena to him. They embraced ach other. "You needn't fear. I will protect you, my love. This I swear upon my life."
I was in awe as Old Leena recounted Allyn Arceneaux's exploits. It was no secret that she was quite a fearsome presence in battle. People still thought of her as the `Dark Lion Prince' even though the third part of that title was now nonsensical. But to hear Old Leena speak of her actions with such esteem, it was though I could actually picture what happened myself. I saw a vision of the great woman herself, clad in gold and silver armour, bravely fighting off the barbarian swine with her sword. I almost envied Old Leena for knowing her personally when I did not.
Her own words seemed to have the same effect on her.
I saw Old Leena stare into the distance with a small nostalgic smile on her face. "She was such a brave and noble woman. She could clearly tell that I was in shock and she did nothing to disturb me. There were none so valiant as her in battle."
"Tell me what happened next." I asked.
Her brief smile disappeared. "...Yes. I used my magic to put out the fires. Then Annemarie and I searched for survivors. There were none. Everyone was dead... including my father and the new baby."
"I am sorry. But... what of Gwendolyn?"
"We never found her body. Annemarie guessed that she had been one of those captured by the raiding party as slaves. It was a fate far worse than death. But Annemarie and I had little time to mourn. As soon as we completed the search we took refuge in the elder's manor for the night. Neither one of us managed to get much sleep. I was too disturbed by what I had seen of their attack and Allyn was still too worried about protecting me. It was unfortunate because the barbarian attack had taken our minds off of what we actually needed to be afraid of."
"What was that?" I wondered.
Old Leena exhaled. "...Schroedinger."
Though getting to sleep was a trial in and of itself Leena managed to do so. A few hours sleep left her rested. She had fallen asleep in Annemarie's arms the previous night as they curled up together in the large double bed that the elder of Stoltz once shared with his own wife. Then morning light hit her and she began to stir. The first thing she noticed as she groggily awoke from her slumber was the pungent stink of blood and smoke still lingering in the air. It had not faded. Then when she rubbed the sleep from her eyes she noticed that Annemarie was not lying next to her. She looked around and saw the undressed woman standing by the window of the bedroom and peering out.
The blonde frowned. She clenched and unclenched her fist.
"What is wrong, Annemarie?" Leena questioned.
"It is Lord Schroedinger," she answered. "He is here."
Leena's heart quickened. With all the panic surrounding the barbarian horde's advances, they had actually forgotten that they were on the run from Freikdebard. Grandora was clearly a scathing woman and she would not have hesitated to tell anyone of Annemarie's secret. What was worse was that Allyn truly did think of Fraust Schroedinger as a surrogate father. He had been the one to train and educate her in the ways of combat and warfare. If not for him then she still would have been that childish little imp waving a wooden sword around at a madman's pet, playing at being a knight. Leena could see all the tension and emotion that was tightening Annemarie up right now. It would have been painful for anyone.
Leena drew her legs against her chest. "What are we to do...?"
She said it more as a personal speculation than a call for Annemarie to act. But that was the way the blonde took it. She ended up voicing her thoughts on the matter, "I will have to go out there and speak with him in person."
"What?" Leena frowned. "You cannot face him...! Dean Praxedes must have told him your secret by now. You know as well as I how serious it will be if you approach the Order now that they know..."
Annemarie kept her eye on what was going on outside. Schroedinger was on horseback and in full armour. There were four regular soldiers flanking him but their attention was focused on the damage that had been done to Stoltz because of the barbarian attack.
"We have nowhere to hide," Annemarie told her dejectedly. "They will search the houses for survivors anyway. And fighting him is useless. He is far stronger than I am and I... I would not want to fight him even if he weren't. We will have to be sly."
"What do you mean?"
The Angel Knight walked over to the bed and sat down. "I am going to go out there. If they do know of my secret then detaining you should be the least of their concerns. Now as I speak to them you must use the distraction to sneak out of the manor and obtain the horse back at the stable. After that Leena, ride southeast as we planned."
Leena was distraught. "What about you?"
"I... I will find a way to escape."
"How? How will you escape...?"
Annemarie looked away. "Do not worry. I am sure... that the opportunity will present itself. That is the plan and you have to abide by it or the pair of us are finished."
Annemarie seized her by the shoulders. "Listen to me, Leena! This is the only way! We cannot both flee from this place without being discovered! Lord Schroedinger is not a fool! The only way to survive this is to be cunning! If you have ever loved me then you must do as I tell you just this one time! Please, Leena! Please follow through with our plan! Promise me that you will!"
It was the first and last time she would ever lie to her wife. "...I... I promise."
"...Okay. I'm going to get dressed now."
She did that in silence. Annemarie redressed herself in her Angel Knight armour and once again donned the alias of `Allyn Arceneaux'. By the time she adjusted her gauntlets she was fully kitted out. At that point the two women stared at each other. There was something ominous about this whole thing. They both felt that inkling within themselves. So when they kissed goodbye... it was passionate. More so than any other `goodbye kiss' they could remember sharing. Leena clasped Allyn's cheeks and romantically kissed the stalwart knight upon the mayor's bed.
When they broke the kiss she whispered, "I love you."
"I love you too..." Answered the Dark Lion Prince.
They then separated. Allyn left the room and Leena ran to the window to see what was going to happen. The soldiers that had scouted around were already returning to give Schroedinger their report when the doors to the mayor's manor burst open. The foot soldiers all reached for the grips of their swords, half-expecting to see a barbarian, but they relaxed slightly when they saw Allyn Arceneaux appear through them. He stepped calmly toward the party and kneeled down before Schroedinger`s white horse. The fire of war had done nothing to strip Allyn Arceneaux of his civility.
"Greetings, Lord Schroedinger." Offered Allyn.
Schroedinger stared at him for a moment before answering. "Stand."
He did just that.
"What has happened here?" Asked the mighty Angel Knight, gesturing at all the burnt buildings and broken homes. "Am I right in assuming that this was some kind of barbarian attack?"
Allyn went terse for a moment. He expected his lord to go straight for the jugular. Whatever the reason he maintained his cool and answered him politely, "Amorphous trident, sir. A raiding party came at Stoltz and ransacked it. I managed to defeat the remaining troops but the raiding party would surely have regrouped with the main army by now."
"I see..." Schroedinger stated calmly. "How unfortunate for you. An escapee reached Freikdebard early this morning and informed us of what happen. Then my men and I ventured out here to see the result... and we end up spotting you. The Goddess is quite cruel at times... is she not...?"
Allyn's hands balled into fists. Schroedinger knew. He could tell by the way his lord was speaking to him. But to buy Leena enough time to escape, he pretended as though he were oblivious. "What do you mean by that, Lord Schroedinger?"
He exhaled. "...Take off your armour."
The taller man dismounted his horse and removed his helmet, revealing his chiselled beard and the great battle scar he carried across the right side of his face. With one mighty hand he unsheathed the pride and joy of the Schroedinger family; the fabled golden sword known as Vae Cerpher. Allyn (as well as the other soldiers) looked on with alarm.
Schroedinger tapped the sharp tip of Vae Cerpher against her breastplate. "I said take off your armour."
"...Lord Schroedinger, I..."
"Do not make me force you." He said in a forceful whisper. "This is the word of your lord."
There was no use denying it any further. Schroedinger had been informed. There was no other reason for this. So Allyn did what Schroedinger asked and removed the Angel Knight armour. Piece by piece the masculine façade diminished until the woman that existed beneath it -- Annemarie -- was revealed to all. The soldiers behind Schroedinger all gasped and scoffed with confusion, while Schroedinger himself shut his eyes with remorse.
"The one called Allyn Arceneaux does not exist," she said. "I have lied to you, my lord."
"I did not want to believe it. I thought that Praxedes had merely seen things. But she was right after all, was she not? You are a woman." Schroedinger sheathed his blade. Then sheer frustration then took him over. "Good Goddess, child! What could have possessed you to do something like this? You have broken one of the cardinal tenets of the code of the Angel Knights! This is blasphemy! And I was so proud of you...! You were my child...!"
"I am still your child...!" Annemarie pleaded. "Have you no sentiment left for me? I have lied to you, yes, but only because I wished so greatly to be a knight! I wished to serve the Empire with the latent abilities that you brought out of me! You created me! You truly are my father! And as my father, can you not see why I did what I did? Why do we allow ancient edicts and laws that make us discriminate against each other in the face of a common enemy? Why should women be shackled like this? It is disorder! And you told me that the true goal of a knight is to bring order to the world! I follow that ideal!"
Her words were frank. But Schroedinger merely grimaced. "The backbone of any and every civilization worth its salt is the upholding of tradition. I do not deny the callousness of your predicament but who are you and I to question systems that have been in place hundreds of years before you and I were even conceived? You and I are mere steps in an endless ladder that will stretch throughout time and into eternity. We are as nothing compared to the codes that shape the lives of all those who will come before and after us on that ladder. We have no right to tamper with its constitution!"
Annemarie looked away sadly. "...Why can I not reach you...?"
"Because you fight for the moment. I fight for the day. I fight for the future. If we do not preserve our integrity and our traditions then we are no better than the scum who destroyed this place! Grandora Praxedes was right. You cannot be pardoned for what you have done."
"That lunatic tried to rape my wife!" Yelled the blonde. "You would truly side with her over me?"
Schroedinger crossed his armoured arms. "That is not the way Praxedes tells it. She pronounced that your wife grew jealous of her success and attacked her for it."
"Do you really believe that? Look into your heart! You know Leena. She would never have attacked the Dean like that unless she was trying to defend herself!"
"Even if that were true it would not change your crime." He informed her. "You have erred and you shall be judged for it. But that judgement is not mine to give. You will be taken to Freikdebard Gaol and you will remain there until the Imperial Army's Sub-Parliament decides your fate. If you resist I will have to take you by force. Do not make me do that."
Annemarie went silent. A painstaking moment was taken, when she exchanged a glance between the manor and Schroedinger. Then she exhaled. Finally she spoke to her `father' softly, "I will come with you, but on one condition. You must let Leena go. If you try to apprehend her now then I swear I will fight you and every one of your soldiers with every last breath that exists within my being. And I do not wish to kill my comrades anymore than you would. So would you at least grant me that...?"
She was in no position to be making ultimatums but he would give her that. "Fine. I have no quarrel with Leena. I will spare her."
For that she was grateful. "...Thank you, my Lord."
"...We must take flight," Schroedinger removed the gauntlet of his right hand. "Are you ready?"
Annemarie declared her yes to that with a nod. That was all that Schroedinger needed to hear. With a tremendously powerful roar the `Dark Lion King' vehemently punched Annemarie's stomach. Her eyes bugged out and she wheezed in breath. She was completely winded. The blonde woman dropped down unconscious into the dust. Then Schroedinger gestured to his soldiers and two of them came over to collect her. They hoisted her up and carried her off. But they were stopped in their tracks when they heard a voice scream "Nooooooooooooo!" from the mayor's manor.
One of the soldiers blinked. "A survivor?"
"...No," Schroedinger shut his eyes. "It is Leena."
And he was right. Annemarie's wife charged down the stairs of the manor and ran out through its doors into the desolate town square; where Schroedinger and his soldiers now had Annemarie. She skidded to a stop and the grey dress that she was wearing (which had belonged to the elder's wife) waved around her legs. Immediately she summoned magical fire into her hands. The two free soldiers saw this and angrily scuttled in front of their Lord Schroedinger, who looked on in stillness.
"You will not take her!" Leena barked. "I swear to the almighty Goddess that you won't! You shall have to kill me first!"
The forth foot soldier scowled. "Insolent sorceress! Lord Schroedinger, please allow us to kill this-"
The noble deputy commander of the Angel Knights put a staying hand in front of him that restrained his zeal. That soldier released the grip of his sword. Then Schroedinger stepped forward and strode up to the much smaller Leena without a hint of fear. They came face to face with each other. Leena looked up angrily while Schroedinger look down emotionlessly.
Leena snarled at him. "You man of poison! I completely misjudged you! Do you have any idea how much Annemarie loves and respects you? How could you be so callous as to do this to someone who you meant the world to?"
"...Do you think I do what I do now because I WISH to?" Schroedinger expressed. "Man or woman, that Angel Knight who sleeps in the arms of my soldiers is my child. I love her. But there is something in this overcast world that transcends love. That thing is duty. I have a duty to the Empire and a duty to all its people to uphold its laws. That is why I must take your lover away from you. I hope one day you might be able to understand."
But Leena, neck-deep in the same rage that infested her soul when Grandora had attempted to rape her, would hear none of it. "You shall NOT do this! I'll kill you myself!"
Everyone was alert when Leena hurled a magical bolt of flame at the Angel Knight. Schroedinger acted with the swiftness and force of a hurricane. He bolted around the ball of flame in a blur, starling Leena. She blinked and then could no longer see him. "Where did he go?" She yelled. Before she could follow up the attack she heard the sound of metal being unsheathed. Everyone's necks cranked backward. The Angel Knight was in the air with Vae Cerpher at the ready. It began to sparkle with bright amethyst energies before he threw one tremendous swing of it at the ground-fixed Leena and bellowed very menacingly, "Darkness Blade!"
She knew it to be the trademark technique of the Angel Knights. Leena screamed when a huge wave of spiritual energy struck her down to the earth. Dazzlingly bright purple light shone up into the air and illuminated everything. The soldiers serving Schroedinger all gasped and covered their eyes to prevent themselves from being blinded. All they could do was hear the relentless sound of sucking energy, cracking stone and a young woman's screams of agony. The very ground underneath their feet shook like the aftershock of a tremor. Schroedinger's armour clinked when he landed on the floor. By that time the light had started to fade. The soldiers uncovered themselves and gazed at Leena. She was face down in a shallow concave of blackened soil. The dress she wore was now shredded and torn to pieces. Smoke rose from her burnt clothing. She trembled.
She was alive.
Schroedinger sheathed his golden sword. "I apologize for my roughness. I made the blast as weak as I possibly could. You should be able to move by the time we have left. I suggest you find yourself a horse and flee south of her. It is no longer safe to be lingering in the countryside now that the barbarians have arrived."
He turned on his heels to rejoin his troops. But there was still some strength left in her. Defying all logic, Leena weakly opened her eyes. Tears were already forming in them. And her limp left arm struggled to reach out to an unrepentant Schroedinger. It was her last life line...
"...P-please..." She begged heartbreakingly. "...Please d-don't... take her... away from... me... please..."
The Angel Knight stopped.
"...I beg... of you... please...? "
He looked over his shoulder and frowned. "I have no choice."
The last thing Leena remembered seeing was Schroedinger take Annemarie's unconscious body from his soldiers and throwing her over the back of his saddle. He and his troops then left the ruins of Stoltz. A disconsolate and forlorn Leena then passed out in the blackened dust beneath her.
I was astounded when she told me.
I could not help but feel how heartbroken and upset I would be if this were to have happened to me, if I had been in her place all those years back. There was Allyn -- bearing her most personal secret up willing and valiantly sacrificing herself to protect her love; Fraust Schroedinger -- herded by his duty to the Empire into submitting his surrogate child to certain doom, and Leena -- desperate not to be parted from her wife and yet powerless to do anything to stop it. It was so tragic.
Old Leena ran a hand over her wrinkled face. "That is the second most painful moment of my life. You have no idea what it feels like to have someone snatched from you and not be able to do a damned thing about it."
"I... can imagine."
"No you cannot," the elderly woman snapped acidly. "Can you imagine your own heart ripped bleeding from your chest as though it were someone else's toy? There are no words that can convey the sorrow of it. And a great folly it is for someone to try."
I did not mean to offend her. "What happened after that?"
Old Leena frowned. "Subsequently came the absolute worst moment of my life."
It was a double-hitter.
The only difference between them was that those strokes had cut into different echelons of the city. The city (in its entirety) was shocked when news of the pillage of Stoltz became public knowledge. The other stroke was to the petty aristocracy and the gossiping circle of wives and handmaidens; and that stroke was the knowledge that the Dark Lion Prince was female. It was significantly less important and yet just as talked about; it was a hot topic amongst the refugees during Freikdebard's mass evacuation. Men whom had once praised Allyn Arceneaux as a heroic figure now condemned the Angel Knight as a liar and a scoundrel. The maidens and mothers and motherly-maidens that had once swooned over the `inexplicably beautiful' boy now scorned the name `Arceneaux' and branded its bearer a depraved, vicious Sapphic seducer of women. Little remorse was spared for the woman behind the story.
After being captured by Fraust Schroedinger and his soldiers, Annemarie was taken to Freikdebard Gaol and held prisoner there. Her fate would be decided by the Imperial Army Sub-Parliament itself since her military status made it a military transgression. Once they learned of the case it took the IASP three long months to deliver a verdict. Some suggested it took so long because the Sub-Parliament was already so busy with the military assessment for the Emperor. Others would suggest it was because there was a split within the Sub-Parliament about the issue -- half of them believing she should be brought to justice and the other half questioning the realistic severity of what she had done, which consequently created a deadlock. Meanwhile (during those three agonizing months) Schroedinger recalled the Holy Crusaders from the merchant city of Rork, and summoned all of the Angel Knight parties that had been deployed throughout the townships and principalities of the Northern Empire. They created a blockade around the entire city and prepared themselves for a siege. When the attack did take place (two weeks after Annemarie was arrested) Salganhuuk launched his attack on the city of Freikdebard.
Schroedinger and his forces somehow managed to sufficiently protect the city and withstand the siege by holding the barbarians to a stalemate. It was roughly at this time that the military assessment was made. Within a fortnight 550,000+ soldiers were amassed at Teruvia. That armed force was later sent with food and supplies to Freikdebard. By the time the army got there the city was standing on a hair. Had the siege lasted any longer they would have capitulated and been swallowed up. It was only through the legendary leadership of Schroedinger that that fate was avoided. The new Imperial forces then spent the next two months driving the hordes back across the Silesian peninsula and in the process recapturing Elk A'ltaign and Ban-Fai Pan. The Empire's might and speed were inexplicable and reports (albeit unconfirmed ones) soon filtered in that Salganhuuk himself had been killed in battle. Defensive warfare now became offensive. Word began to spread that the Emperor was considering sending orders to the Imperial forces to cross the Silesian peninsula into barbarian tribal lands and launch an attack on K'lak Bluud, their most eminent kraal.
The fate of the barbarians seemed to tie in with that of Annemarie. By the time their rampage had been brought under control the Imperial Army Sub-Parliament had made its decision about her fate. She would be granted no pardon or dishonourable discharge (as Schroedinger had secretly pushed for) but rather she would be executed as a `war criminal' under nine statutes of Elcourvian Empire law. The title of Angel Knight would be striped from her; and the `unlawful' marriage to Leena would be annulled.
There would be no trial.
Leena was deep in hiding by the time this decision had been made. She never did as Annemarie and Schroedinger had suggested and flee to the south. Instead the sorceress remained in the city until a verdict was made. During this time she considered making some kind of attempt to break Annemarie out of jail numerous times. Each time she ended up rejecting the idea. There was no fear on her part -- only clear logic. Annemarie's cell was on constant watch by at least one Angel Knight and three Angel Mages. Her force in comparison to that was abysmal. She had no choice but to stand back and watch others callously decide the fate of her beloved. In Leena's misery everything around her became null and void. She even lost track of the days... but only up until one very specific day.
The day Annemarie was to be executed.
And today was that day.
Though the material was rough against her skin, Leena kept her identity well-hidden in a dark brown cloak that covered most of her body. People simply assumed she was some kind of shy geriatric. She had to contain herself, to avoid growing angered as the hundreds of people surrounding her in Freikdebard town square insulted and debated Annemarie. Leena remained silent and preferred to keep her eye on the wooden structure at the far end of the square; the gallows. Normally it was arraigned for hangings. On this location however it would facilitate a beheading. A menacing-looking guillotine had been set up atop the platform. A muscled executioner stood guard by it. His face was obscured by a black cloth with eyeholes cut into its fabric.
Soon the jeers of the crowds picked up in tempo. Leena's eyes enlarged. Two imperial soldiers dragged a semi-conscious Annemarie out unto the dirty wooden planks of the gallows. Her hands were bound behind her back by tough iron manacles and she was emasculated; and looked as though she hadn't eaten a good meal in weeks. Her skin was pallid and littered with bruises and cuts (more than likely from sustained beatings). Those normally bright emerald eyes had become dull and sullen and they were yet to be even half open. Her lemon blonde hair had grown somewhat and clearly had not been brushed. The ends were split and its texture was now frayed and unkempt. Annemarie was now nothing more than a pale reflection of her former self. It broke Leena's heart all over again just seeing her like that. Despite Schroedinger's best efforts the Empire had kept its promise not to show her any leniency. The crowds were practically baying for her blood. They jeered and heckled the former Angel Knight, showering her with rude insults and barbarous jibes;
"Lying bitch!", "Defiler!", "Daughter of a whore!", and "Traitor!" they bellowed.
Rotten fruits and vegetables were hurled at the woman and gallows she was hauled across. The two soldiers threw her to the boards and she toppled over impotently. It caused the back of the torn robes she was wearing to open. That revealed the hideous and deep welts running across the muscles and flesh of her back. Leena was more than seventy paces from the gallows but she could see that quite easily. The matrons and guards of the gaol had seen her fit for a flogging. The executioner then took hold of her. He brusquely wrenched Annemarie to the stock of the guillotine and forced her neck into its semi-circular opening. He then shut and locked it. Then from the right side of the gallows came a priest, none other than Bishop Ptolemy, the man whom had directed her wedding. Leena and the surrounding rabble all watched the sanctified man step before Annemarie with a jar of holy water. He dipped his fingers in it and then flicked the droplets at the fallen Dark Lion Prince, muttering,
"In the eternal name of the Goddess and the holiness of her creation, bless this innocent lamb led astray by the taint of Maelkutuzai and his many poisons of covetousness and deceit. Take her into your bosom oh mighty Goddess, so that she may know the purity of your light and be washed clean of the sins she has wrought. Oh heavenly Goddess, may you bless her spirit."
The bishop then stepped down from the gibbet. Time itself seemed to slow down at that moment. The executioner leisurely approached the lever on one side of the guillotine. His meaty fingers gripped it and then pulled it down. The thick rope suspending the gleaming blade was released. Leena scrunched her eyes closed.
With a thunderous thud and a quite sickening hack and splatter of metal through bone and muscle; the head of Annemarie Arceneaux was bloodily extended from its shoulders amid riotous cheers. It dropped into the mucky basket below.
Tears were already trickling down Leena's cheeks. She thought that she had cried all the tears left in her after Annemarie was captured. Apparently she was wrong. And she did not stay there any longer. Leena span around crying and shoved her way through the hissing throng of people. Annemarie's execution was only the first of the day. The imperial soldiers removed her body from the mechanism and lifted her head from the basket (a few hours later that head would be placed on a pike on top of Freikdebard town hall). The executioner yawned and reset the blade, now blotched with a fallen knight's blood; and prepared the way for the next victim the imperial soldiers brought in -- a captured barbarian.
Leena left the mocking chants and gruesome scene behind. Her beloved Annemarie was dead and but there was a new focus for her; one that she managed to preserve throughout her grief by means of an icy hardness. Leena had changed a great deal since Annemarie's capture. She had become distant and cold. And the execution of Annemarie would prove to cement that frostiness. The girl walked through a certain series of streets until she reached an alleyway darkened by the more imposing shadow of an asylum. There was someone waiting there for her; Graig. The soldier stood cross-armed and embittered with a heavy sack next to his boots. When he saw Leena approach him he pushed himself off of the wall he was leaning on and sombrely greeted her.
She swallowed. "...It... is done."
"Bastards! She didn't deserve that!" He shouted angrily. Graig calmed himself however when he noticed how much Leena was shaking. "I... I'm sorry. How hard this must truly be for you... I cannot even begin to imagine, Leena. Not to mention Lord Schroedinger..."
Leena scowled in a way that startled even Graig. "That insidious puppet? That soulless shell who speaks of love and commits betrayal! And speaks duty! Curse him! Curse this Empire, this continent, this world, this life and ALL of its agonies! I hate all of it!"
Graig was stunned into silence.
"...Give me what I came for..." Leena struggled to contain her rage. "...Now."
He nodded nervously and opened the sack laying near his feet. Inside it was Annemarie's armour and sword. Graig had managed to bribe some men at the gaol for them. Once he found Leena a place to hide out he told her of it. The two of them had been in contact since Schroedinger captured Annemarie three months ago. Leena searched through the sack. Everything seemed to be in order.
"...What are you going to do?" Asked Graig.
Leena closed the sack's opening when she was done. "...I am going to pay someone a visit."
Twelve hours later, long after her meeting with Graig, Leena stalked through the halls of Freikdebard University. The hood of her cloak was up. Night had fallen and so most of the people on campus were in the library or in their dorms. Because of the barbarian siege none of them had been allowed to go home yet. It made Leena's current goal trickier but not impossible. For as she walked she put on the white mask of the Death Clowns. That (combined with the cloak) made her appear just like one of them. It gave her a free ticket around school grounds -- no students tried to approach a Death Clown unless it was quite necessary. So she stepped unopposed through the halls of Freikdebard university until she came to the room she was looking for.
The office of Dean Grandora Praxedes.
Leena rapped her knuckles on the door... hard. Grandora's shrill voice beckoned her forth with a callow "you may enter". The disguised Leena opened the door and stepped inside. Grandora stood in front of her desk. She was flicking through the pages of an old magical text. The cap and veil covering half of her face was still being worn. Apparently her scarring was permanent. When the older woman heard the door close she turned around and flicked her bangs out of her remaining eye.
"I am busy," Grandora uttered in a passive huff. "What is it you want?"
She removed the mask from her face. "...Retribution..."
The instant Grandora spoke the name she jerked. Leena ran toward her and with a bestial scream, she thrust a knife into the older sorceress' stomach. Grandora lurched, completely stunned, as a thin line of blood escaped the corner of her lips. The taller one looked down. Through Leena's normally warm eyes she saw nothing in her but hatred and contempt.
"...Do you feel this?" Leena fumed venomously, twisting the knife, causing Grandora more pain. "Do you feel this pain? It is as nothing compared to the sorrow I now endure. And it is all thanks to you. You noxious excuse for a human being. I would kill you a thousand times over and it STILL would not be enough. Go rot in Chandalarah... precisely where you belong!"
Leena angrily ripped the knife out of Grandora's torso. She gargled up blood, viciously, and staggered forward until she dropped dead to the ground. The younger girl's shoulders bobbed up and down as she tried to get her breath back. She had never been so utterly angry in her life. A few more sharp breaths and she walked out of the Dean's office. A bitter corpse pooling in its own blood... was all that was left in her wake.
That is the Legend of the late Allyn Arceneaux as told to me by her wife, Leena.
To this day I do not know what it was that gave Leena the strength to tell me her heartbreaking past. But I, am eternally grateful. I am glad that the world will now have the opportunity to read what I have compiled and can learn the truth about Allyn Arceneaux. And I beg you not to see it as a glorification of a woman who lied to obtain power... but rather the third-hand testimony of a woman who was forced to lie to give herself an equal playing field in an Order that prides itself on its antediluvian and sexist laws. Let us all read this and know the callowness of their reasoning. Let us all read this and see how important its is for a person's voice to be heard, no matter what separates that person from us.
And let us all read this and feel the heartbreak that inevitably follows... when our society forces a person to be something they are not. Perhaps we will have taken the first step towards constructing the kind of world where such a tragedy might never happen again. Perhaps.
...One can only hope.
END OF THE LEGEND OF ALLYN ARCENEAUX
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