<I liked Goka> as did I <Get out of the hq kill as many as you can, a lion could be fun> <not at all baby, I need to sneak this> <fly it is matchstick> I stalked the night streets, I need a new disguise, a better one, a prettier one, for Sal. Her A prostitute, how fitting. This will be stressful for the both of us, I pulled her hair from behind and kissed her deeply why skin turned black and writhed with runes and runs of blood I bit the girls lip, hard, drawing blood I drank it thirstily and took her form as easily as one might change clothes, I learned her name, her family, her secrets, the runes cleared and I was reborn, my name is Coba, and I know where the wardens are. <I'm free> <I see you parrot> <it's temporary> <it better be, matchstick>
I got too involved in her life, matchstick. Coba said, with Sal back in his salamander form perched atop her shoulder. I became Goka. I miss her.
You miss Goka? What do you think I feel? I liked her better than I like you. Coba, your new name? A prostitute? You don't have Goka's style.
Coba groaned and shook her head angrily. "Silence, Sal."
Well, let's make the best of it. Sal thought. You learned a lot from Goka. We know about the Wardens. We know their Paladin is missing. And we know that the Librarians are probably working with foreign agents. I think they're planning something.
Yes, they were planning something. Goka Khaan was getting close. Librarian Anan had told the Wardens of his suspicions, and Goka had learned about those suspicions through the Wardens. Information was a weapon. The question was, what were the Librarians planning? Also, thanks to Shari, Coba knew that the Librarians were trying to hunt down Anan.
Question was, what to do with that information?
You know what really pisses me off, Sal? The High Librarian tried to throw Goka to the dogs. He wanted to sacrifice her. That's selfish, and coming from me, that's saying something. I hate that man.
Sal radiated amusement. Then let's find him. We know his favourite spots, if he's not at the bloody vegetable stand.
On the way to the Park, Coba was accosted by a wandering soldier on patrol. "Hey precious. I've got a coin for you if you can do us a favour."
Coba flirted with the soldier and led him down an alley, and then snapped his neck.
Returning to business, Coba and Sal headed for the High Librarian's house, built halfway into the park, right beside the great pond. A couple of Librarians were standing guard outside, and there seemed to be activity coming from inside. Edging closer to the building, Coba tested her new muscles. They were unfit, compared to Goka, but they would have to do.
Suddenly, the door to the High Librarians' house opened, and the High Librarian himself walked out, stretching his arms. The vegetable-selling bastard looked pleased with himself. Two strangers followed him out. Both of them carried strange swords covered in runes.
Do you think they're-
Yeah. Godslayers. Coba thought, surprised. What's that fancy bastard doing with those freaks?
One of the Godslayers looked into the shadows, and made eye contact with Coba. He put a finger to his nose knowingly, smiled, and looked away again, pretending he had never seen her.
Seconds later, a voice came from the shadows, from a reptilian familiar. "We know you. We need your help. The Burning Man must fall. Come to us."
I turned and grabbed the lizard off a nearby barrel, he was calm as I held him tight. Sal free of a need for cover switched to a similar lizard and ran to my shoulder. <it's rude to hold another's familiar> <hush sal> "So what do the god slayers have to say?" I asked the reptile. "Come find out" I tossed the lizard up in the air with a laugh and caught it in my sleeve, the little thing scrambled around in shock and I walked up to the slayers now the librarian had left, tossed back the lizard and flicked my hair, "So what do you two want with little old me?" "Drop the act caster, you know our goal, we both wish the burned man dead and we have the ability, but not the man power, not yet. You are a Blood Mage correct?" I did not question how he knew these things but I nodded, "A skin shifter?" Another nod "Have you ever tried to shift outside of the exact symmetry of blood?" This confused me. "I'm sorry what?" I replied, "Have you ever tried to be something more, not just a copy?" The thought had never occurred to me and I stood in awe of the idea. "Try this" the godslayer drew a vial of blood from his armour, I tasted it, it was not human, I covered my head with a hood so I could not be seen by the people walking past and I absorbed the blood drinking it curiously. As my skin turned black I felt the blood course through me as I felt new and more radical changes, I felt different, more stiff my skin hardened and turned brown and nobbled my hair turned green as grass. "What is this?" I asked, almost crying. "What spell have you put me under?" "This is your magic Coba you control it" I fought the changes and pushed my skin to soften, I returned to normal, save my arms. I looked at them wide eyed, I morphed my hands to a point and shot my arm sideways splintering a barrel and skewering an apple, I took a healthy bite. "What sort of blood is this?" "That was extracted from the old man of the wood, with a special blade fitted with a vial can collect the essence of and physical manifestation, be it human, spirit, or lets say, an archon. I saw what the man was thinking, "you want me to obtain blood, from spirits?" "Spot on" "And what do I get?" "The high librarian, on a plate" we did not need to think sal and I instantly agreed. "You have your Mage, for now, what would you have me do?" I was giddy with excitement, maybe that was the magic, or the damned prostitute. "We want you to kill the burned man, with this blade and bring us the blood, as much as you can" the man handed me a beautifully crafted knife with a clear core made of hollow glass. "It took me years to get even a little close to him" "That's why you get the high librarian" The plan was solid, take the librarian's body, kill the burned man, what's so hard about that? <we get to kill them> sal asked feverishly <with the help of the slayers> <we should give the librarian a shock> I knew what he meant, I concentrated on my blood felt my skin shift and as I looked up, Goka spoke. "You have yourself a deal"
I can't remember where I'm from, I'm from the suburbs of the capital, I'm a highborn born in a palace, a girl from the slums and a child in the country. It's all mixed and mashed, I'm a highborn slumrat from the suburbs of the country, I know who I am, I'm Coralie, I'm a bitch, I'm THE bitch, Blood Mage capital b capital m. I know what I want, death, destruction, chaos, order, life and love in equal measure death: archons. Destruction: dominion. Chaos: the librarians. Order: kutanda. Life: me. Love: ditto. Today I get one of these things, chaos, tonight I kill the high librarian. After my conversation with the Godslayers, talking plans and tactics, I went to a safe place to experiment with my new abilities, I had to wait until nightfall and I practiced turning my skin to bark and flesh to wood, making my arms come to a point, dagger branches, I could not detach fast enough so projectiles were out of the question for now, I have always been more for up close and personal, at sun down I ran across the rooftops fully wooden, green hair waving behind me. The librarian would be in his house two hours after sun down, and I would be waiting for him. Sal, my familiar and shape shifting companion, now a panther, leapt between the rooftops alongside me. <we have hungered for this> Sal spoke breathlessly, nothing to do with the run. I opened my mouth to speak and my throat simply groaned and creaked. I slid into the high librarian's house, lowercase h lowercase l, and weaved myself into a wooden beam on the ceiling. We waited, Sal as a small bird, me as a roof beam. The high librarian walked in to the hall and I dropped an his back, crushing his rib cage and starting his path to death, this man would die tonight, but how quickly? I wanted to fuck with him so I transformed into Goka, flipped him and looked him in the eye, he spluttered and coughed up blood. "You're dead" "Yes, you are" I put my fist in his mouth. <that was fucking childish> <suck my dick matchstick> I expanded spikes from my hand, needle thin, piercing his skull. The librarian screamed and I expanded the needles to the size of an arm so fast his head exploded splattering gore and grey matter all over his house, I lapped up his blood and took his form with a flash of black. I returned to the roof as Sal, now a ferret rolled in the gore, giggling to himself, we ran home full of joy and washed and waited for our meeting with the burned man. I am Coralie and I'm going to fuck some shit up.
She had walked up to the Crucible, wearing the face and body of the High Librarian. The guards had let her pass - the Burned Page had been expecting her. The Burning Man thought that the High Librarian had come, to beg for peace. Somehow, the most intelligent spirit in the world had been a fool.
Once she was inside, she broke the runes and wards defending the Crucible. The inside agents turned on their brothers, filling the guard houses with corpses. The Godslayers marched in with their runed swords, following Coralie as she cut her way through the Crucible, stacking bodies high.
At last they came to the gates of the Burning Man's chamber.
"Distract him. I will shed his blood."
The Burning Man's heat and power were intense. Coralie was like a fly before a raging fire, and yet, the Burning Man hesitated. It was true, then, he was afraid to kill. His greatest weakness was that he could not defend himself properly, because he was afraid of becoming a homonculus. It was why he had only fought once, in the Massacre of the Flames. And so, Coralie wounded him, and retreated the chamber with a sample of his blood.
By the time the Crucible had rallied its defenders to counter the attack, Coralie was already fleeing out the back door. She planned to escape with this power, and keep it for herself, but the Godslayers had anticipated her.
They caught her, beat her, and threw her into a box, covered in magical wards. Screaming, she defied them, to no avail. They threw Sal into a similar prison, smaller, more cruel in its runic restrictions. She could barely hear his voice in her head. Coralie could hardly move her arms or legs, and her body ached with cramps. She drank the blood of the Burning Man, a single great secret oozing into her mind.
The secret on how to create a great weapon, capable of destroying magic.
That is what the Godslayers wanted so badly. That is why they sent her into the Crucible. And now they had betrayed her, just like how she had planned to betray them. She continued to laugh and scream, and kick and punch, scratching her skin, bleeding and howling. But no sound escaped the box.
She was trapped.
Hours seemed to turn into days.
WHERE AM I?
I HATE YOU ALL.
YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS.
GET ME OUT.
Was it Sal's voice, or hers?
She changed into the shape of a little child, mirroring what she felt in that prison.
At last, a tiny panel in the box opened. A bit of food and water was pushed through, along with blinding sunlight. A man's face peered through, bearded and refined, with high cheekbones. It was the face of the Godslayer who had given her this mission. He had killed the Old Man of the Wood in Myrnium. There was no pity in his eyes, no humanity in his face. She felt kinship upon seeing him. Here was somebody equally monstrous as her. His name was Dynkar.
"Coralie." Dynkar said. "You are being taken to Senusa, where you will die unless you do as I say."
"We will extract the knowledge from your mind and soul. We will spare you much pain, if you co-operate."
He pushed a paper and quill into the box, and an unlit candle. Then she was in darkness again.
Shifting hurts and I keep getting stuck halfway, my skin was charcoal black and cracked along my torso with fire running like blood beneath. My arms were gnarled and knotted with thick bark and my knuckles hurt to extend, but I had been through worse, and I would do again. In this form I am much more mailable, I wrote the note and morphed as small as I could, the box was opened and I leapt onto the ceiling holding on by tendrils shot from my arm. Dynkar searched the box not seeing me, he kicked the box smashing one of the runed panels, the note flew out and Dynkar starred at it in disbelief, he picked it up and read it silently, I dropped behind him and regained my size. He roared and spun around, I shot my hand towards his head and enveloped his mouth and neck in thick wood, silencing him, I searched his pocket with a tendril and found the keys I was looking for. I opened Sal's cage and looked the incapacitated man in the eye. "Now friend, we have come to a cross roads, you are in a sticky situation here" <do it, break him> Sal sat on my shoulder as a flaming cat. Dynkar growled underneath his wooden mask. "I don't want to kill you" <lies> "I like what you stand for, but your methods are...lenient. Let me join you as a...consultant. Feed me and clothe me and I'll lend you my certain abilities and if I trust you then I'll give you what you know" Dynkar nodded as best as he could and I took my tendrilled arm and set it alight slicing my arm at the wrist, severing my arm and leaving him the wooden mask intact. Dynkar dropped to the floor and grabbed at his face trying to claw off his mask, I had pushed tendrils into his skin and bone sending burst healing to fuse it into his face, he would never be able to take it off. I used my second arm to carve a hole for his mouth leaving him able to breathe and eat but unable to speak. i picked up the note and he took me to his general and I repeated my offer, the man agreed and handed me a hollow blade. This was it I was a part of the godslayers and would be for a few years at least. <I hope you know what you're doing Goka> I regrew my arm. <you really liked her didn't you?> <The salamander was in love, I have those memories> <as do I matchstick> I walked to my quarters with Sal strolling along in the shape of a panther again.
Then Goka walked past
<that didn't just happen>
<it couldn't happen>
<it didn't happen> <i'm shaking sal> <we just need sleep> <sleep?> <it's been a long month> <good night matchstick> <and you Goka> <Coralie> <sorry, goodnight> I looked at the note and laughed.
Coralie walked through the hall, only to have the ground move underneath her. Dynkar appeared behind her, and led Coralie up a set of stairs. A blast of salty windy smacked into them. Men milled about on a wooden deck, beneath a pair of elegant sails.
"First time on a ship, I see." Dynkar said through the hole in the wooden mask which covered half of his face. "A shapeshifter and enemy of the Burning Man, afraid of water?"
"Watch it, Dynkar."
A pair of men in leather outfits with runed blades strapped to their belts walked up to Coralie. "These men shall be your escorts until we reach land."
Land? Which land?
"Where are we going?"
Dynkar looked out across the terrifying blue expanse, stretching out as far as the eye could see in either direction. "We are going to spread your knowledge of the weapon to all the corners of the world where it is needed most. The Plutars. The Republic. Samar. Wherever it is that we hold influence. But first, you will give us the knowledge you possess."
"Oh? And what do I get in exchange? What if I think it's a bad idea to give you the knowledge of the weapon? I already beat you once."
Dynkar stiffened, his eyes shining with deadly intent. "When in Senusa, I was injured by a Warden. I am recovering still. If not for that injury, you would not have escaped your box so easily."
"A Warden?" Coralie wondered aloud. "If they're the Wardens from Kutanda, it was probably Danton Redwind. I hate him."
"Take her to her quarters." Dynkar said, snapping his fingers. The other two Godslayers complied, taking Coralie below deck.
That night she had a nightmare, of a box from which she could not escape.
She awoke in terror, Dynkar standing over her bed. "This voyage will not end until we have what we need from you. And you will get no rest, not until then."
Then he walked out, leaving her sweating in her bed, the ground beneath her swaying over the waves of the Mesegian Sea.
An idea hit me, I stood up and found my sea legs as best I could, "Dynkar!" The old man walked back into my cabin <when did you think of that?> <I don't know it just hit me> "So grandpa, I'll give you your weapon" the man looked intrigued "But I have terms, I need a team, the best of the best, above the code of the godslayers and above the law, not held accountable for anything, bring me three infiltrators, one binder, one archer and a purist assassin. I need to know they'll be loyal and they need to be able to cope with pain and willing to be...improved. Then you get your weapon" the man pondered it for a breath. "I'll bring you your team in a week, we'll dock tonight, though i would like to know what the improvements will be?" <but that would spoil the fun> "it will be painful and permanent, they will forever be marked as mine" Dynkar looked worried but agreed and walked through the door. <why does it feel like you've been thinking about this all day> sal questioned. <i don't know, it feels like I wasn't talking for myself> <the last few months feel like a dream> <I'm just a girl and I remember more than a thousand lifetimes, I don't know who I am I've grown old and died a hundred times, been burned to a cinder a thousand more, the knowledge of the Burned Man flowing through my Veins and now I'm having nightmares and feeling like I'm not myself.> I sank down onto my bunk and sat feeling the rocking of the ship, I put my head in my hands and shrank into my own body and I sat naked and shivering my hair covering my face and for the first time in what felt like a hundred lifetimes, sal curled up on my lap as a kitten, I didn't care about my escort outside my door or the crew of the ship, if I was interrupted I'd kill the intruder, I was not, and I stayed curled until we docked. There was a knock on my door and one of the godslayers came in carrying a set of robes cut roughly so the size of my child's body. I accepted and asked the man's name. "Kirin, and if you don't mind me asking why the girl?" I turned around and showed my back I started to knot my skin releasing tendrils from my shoulder blades, they grew until I shaped them into wings. "Innocence of youth" Kirin said and I nodded he took out a knife and cut two holes in the robe, "Keep them, for now" "Thank you Kirin" I pulled on the garb and curled my wings through the slits and fully extended them roughing the walls I let the bark fall off leaving smooth wood shining with sap, I pulled them back and turned back to Kirin, "I'd like you on my team kiddo" "Who are you calling kiddo?" "I'm twenty thousand years your elder I can call you whatever I please" I looked at the tattoos on him skin, "Binder, check" <two to go, he still needs to cope with our plans though> <trial by fire> <and wood>
2484. Autumn. The Free City, northern coast of the Dominion.
It had been four years since Coralie joined the Godslayers.
In those four years, she had fought back an encroaching madness. Throughout all the years of her life, the shades of the people she had killed spoke with her. They spoke with her, and sometimes she became them, and forgot that she was Coralie.
As she killed more people, the madness grew worse. She knew she was sick, and Sal knew it too.
But she did not care. Not yet, at least.
The Godslayers told her very little about themselves. They kept her ignorant - or so they thought. But she had seen memories of her victims. She knew more than they realised. Dynkar thought he kept her on a tight leash, but she was the one keeping him on a leash. That was what she told herself, anyway.
One by one, enemies of the Godslayers had been murdered by her. Teams of Wardens investigating leads across the Dominion went missing, and wound up massacred. Politicians, pacters and soldiers alike were no match for her.
With the team that Dynkar had let her choose for herself, she was a force of destruction.
Four years later, Coralie was in the Free City, on the northern coast of the Dominion. It was a city that had been a small trading outpost once, long ago, between Nalbin and Havsgard. Now it was independent of both of them, and it was a corrupt metropolis of crime and hatred.
Standing on a roof under the stars, Coralie observed the Free City stretched out around her. In the north, the sea was black because of the night, save for a few dots of light from distant ships. She had come here to meet her contact, one of the Godslayers.
He stepped out from the shadows, wearing a simple leather coat. At his side was buckled one of the infamous runed blades of his order. "The Lady's blade sings." he said in greeting.
Coralie took a few seconds to identify which Godslayer this was - he was a Chakazian, a messenger of the Godslayers. His name was Svasek.
"I have done as the Godslayers commanded. The drug lords in this city who opposed our operations have been killed."
"I know." Svasek said, smiling broadly. "You truly are a darling, an invaluable friend, a wonderful ally."
"Spare me your empty words." Coralie hissed. "Do you come with a new assignment?"
"Yes. For you, and for your team." Svasek said. "But Dynkar offers you two options this time. There are two places where your talents are required."
I sense a new adventure. Sal whispered in her mind.
Be quiet, matchstick.
Svasek twirled his hands into the air. "Have you ever wanted to go to the Plutars, madame?"
Coralie's mind ticked. The islands known as the Plutars were far to the south, five city-states, each with a different culture. She had a few memories of those places from some of her victims. "What do you want me to do in the Plutars?"
"Four years ago, we captured a man in Kutanda." Svasek was rubbing his fingers together, his eyes distant. "A Librarian named Kusalan. But he was not a Librarian from Kutanda."
A Librarian - but a Librarian who was not from Kutanda? Coralie was confused - the Librarians were Kutandan. Where else would they be from?
"Tell me about this Kusalan." Coralie demanded.
Svasek nodded eagerly. "A long time ago, a sect of Librarians escaped from the Burning Man. They went to the Plutars, and started a new library there called the Archive. They have kept their existence a secret for a very, very long time. But one of them, this Kusalan, came to Kutanda. We caught him while planning our attack on the Burning Man. His knowledge proved invaluable in breaching the Crucible's defences. Dynkar wants us to raid the Archive in Atheese and steal its knowledge."
"And what about the other mission?" Coralie wondered.
"The other mission is a mission against your old enemies, the Wardens. There are Wardens investigating the Godslayers in Nalbin. You remember Danton Redwind, do you not? His friends are in Nalbin, and they are trying to destroy us. They need to be eliminated."
"Danton?" The name stirred memories within me. Now we are faced with the choice, we almost died chasing this man before, but we are older and wiser, stronger. "Meet me tomorrow, you shall have your answer. I must decide my fate" I walked away without waiting for his answer.
I walked to the market and bought a sizeable stone, a tablet of an opaline mineral, swirling and glittering, an arms height, half as wide and half a palm deep, my years with the godslayers and ransacking of corpses and the houses of victims and a few nobles along the way had afforded me a respectable sum, I smuggled the tablet, with some difficulty, back to an abandoned house that we were using as a temporary head quarters, I set the tablet in the middle of the largest room, the lack of control filled me and I ordered my team to leave, no questions were asked but Koragan scraped his wooden knuckles on the doorframe leaving a gouge a thumb deep. I needed to think about this, I needed a choice, I used my finger to carve runes into the tablet and cut a line on my hand filling the grooves with fire and wood, I fell unconscious and dreamed of memories and murder and wardens, Shamalan and Danton. I awoke, drenched in a cold sweat, my hand burning and my skin emitting smoke, the stone tablet was molten and flowing about its self yet holding it's form, with blazing characters and symbols fading in and out of existence but I knew that the symbols were telling what I wanted as I stared harder I made out a word, the word slowly filled the stone, "Nalbin" I called my team to the room. Kirin came first, he was short by Kutandan standards but he assured everyone he was average height, what he lacked in cubits he made up for with his immense magic abilities, the binding runes carved into his chest plate and glowing brightly. Koragan came next, his hulking form not betraying his great skill with his lovingly handcrafted bow, always strung and hooked over his torso, fitting snugly in between the spikes growing out of his back. Lastly came Bokuba, slight and agile, she reminded me of Goka, apart from the full face wooden helmet giving her voice a slight echo. "This is going to be tough, we have a new target, tomorrow we head to Nalbin, we are to kill a group of wardens, there will be one among them named Redwind under no circumstances may he be engaged alone he is stronger than any one of you, maybe even me" I swept past my team and closed the door behind me. I sat outside and remembered the day I first recruited my friends. When I made them mine. Koragan was first I held his now hand and pushed tendrils through his skin, traveling up his arm and pushing their way through his back into hornlike spikes from his shoulder blades, giving him stability improving his aim. Then came Bokuba, I wrapped my hand around her head, covering her face, bending the wood to focus her sight and smell, increase her hearing and soften her breathing weaving it into her skull and skin. Then I had to rest for a day to prepare and regenerate. Then came Kirin I used both my arms to create and weave a full breastplate and set of paldrons. At every stage I asked my friends if they wanted to stop, they all endured the pain and oathed to be loyal until death. And so we were all reborn on each members back I burned two curving lines into each shoulder. Innocence of youth. I felt my shoulders and the wings I keep folded beneath my robes. I held Sal in my hands, close to my breast and we slept. No dreams, just sleep.
"Nalbin." Coralie repeated, standing on the same rooftop as the previous day. The sun was rising, casting the northern sea in a warm milky glow as the morning mist dispersed. The first sounds of idle conversation and hawking were rising from the streets below. Coralie could smell blood, the blood of men and women murdered in the night around them, victims of the feuds between the crime rings and jealous spirits. Such was the Free City.
"Nalbin?" Mouthed Svasek, the Chakazian Godslayer. "You surprise me. I would have thought you would be eager to chase down more Librarians. But this Redwind, he has you transfixed, does he not? An obsession."
His words somehow bit deep, and Coralie bit back the urge to impale Svasek. She always had to do that, to resist turning on those Godslayers who mocked her. "Redwind made a fool of me. You need him dead. We both want the same thing, so I chose Nalbin."
Is that really all there is to it? Sal's voice echoed in her mind. He didn't make a fool of you. You want him dead because he gave Goka a second chance, even after Shamalan died. He made you jealous of Goka, didn't he? Because although he had all the reason in the world to hate Goka, he respected her anyway. And Goka was a lie. It was you. You want that respect for yourself. You want him to believe in you.
Coralie grimaced - was Sal up to his old tricks again, trying to manipulate her? Trying to convince her to believe something that she actually did not? Or did Sal have a point? Not now, matchstick.
"I don't care why you chose Nalbin." Svasek spat, edging closer. "Just get there and make a mess of things. If you can avoid it, make sure they don't know it was us who did it. Blame it on Republicans, bandits, binders, chimeras, I don't care. But we have enough eyes on us as it is, Coralie. I don't want your team using the runed swords."
Coralie said nothing. That upset Svasek, which made her smile.
After an uneasy silence, Svasek continued talking. "The Wardens will be snooping around the Nalbinian capital, Tystead, the seat of King Lamais. But they have two regional Warden headquarters. Not all Wardens will be in Tystead, Coralie. You will have to destroy the Warden bases too. One of them is outside of Beyford, to the east. The other you will find near the bell-tower outside of Arkheath."
"Is that all?" Coralie asked, half-bored.
"If you want to travel by sea, we have a ship ready for you. If you want to go by land, we have horses. Split your team if you wish, because if you try and take out the Wardens one group at a time, they will be alerted to you. Make sure to take back any runed blades the Wardens are keeping. One of our most important ones went missing in Nalbin many years ago. Recover it at any cost if you are given the chance, though we have other agents seeking it out. I leave the rest up to you."
"The Lady's blade sings." Coralie said in farewell.
"Yes. Soon, the world will change." Svasek said, eyes alight with an inner fire. "The rotted and trembling arms holding up civilization will snap, and the Archons will plunge into the abyss of their own making. And the world will be reborn."
I thought about what he had said, this obsession, it was keeping me going but is it healthy? How could I find him among three groups, then an idea hit me, I had some of the best trained infiltrators in the godslayers under my control. I flexed my wings under my tunic, shaking the accumulating bark from the tips. I decided I would send Kirin to the smallest encampment in the north by sea, I would have to hire a strong ship to make sure nothing happened. Bokuba would go to the south by the fastest horse I could buy where she would spy at the second biggest camp, then Koragan and I would ride to Tystead and try to work our way into the largest camp, then we would all meet after a month of arriving and then we would ride on the camp with Danton in, sneak in and murder the scum while he slept. <once again, not a flaw in your logic> sal interjected. "What's wrong matchstick?" <well what if dan is in the biggest one, how do you plan to get in?> "We have two months to work that out, we'll be fine my dear" And so we parted and Koragan and I set off, we walked to the nearest stable and bought two jet black stallions, they were apprehensive of the freakish nature of myself and Koragan, as many of the citizens were, his spikes making him standout in the daylight, but a few calm words and a sugar cane calm most beasts. At sundown we spurred our new travel mates onwards, unnamed and worthless, they would be left behind in Nalbin so an emotional attachment would be problematic, though I felt that Koragan may not be so callous.
After a haggard journey through the plains and mountain passes between the Free City and Tystead, Coralie and her company beheld the Nalbinian capital on the horizon. Built of grey stone, it was a monument that had flashed through very few of Coralie's memories. It was the heart of the oldest kingdom in the world, and it looked like it.
"We're here to find the Wardens meddling in Godslayer affairs." Coralie called out to her company. "And when we find them, we are going to torture them, find out what they know, and kill them."
Finding out what they know will be the easy part. Sal cackled in her head, reminding her of the countless lives she had stolen.
They had a few days before the Nalbinian new year celebrations, and they had no contacts in the city. Any Godslayers in the government of Nalbin had been kept secret from Coralie. She would be on her own.
And she had no idea where these Wardens were. Was Danton in Tystead? Or was he at one of the other two bases in Nalbin, which Coralie had sent her other two teams to attack? There was no way of knowing - not yet, at least.
But she had ideas.
One of her lieutenants had made a suggestion - to pretend that they were Wardens. It was devilish. If they pretended to be Wardens, then they would attract the attention of other Wardens. That plan carried its own risks, of course. Instead, Coralie could just kill important people, learn what they knew, and hope to get lucky, coming across the information she needed to find the Wardens.
Or hire sell-swords and people who were familiar with Tystead.
There were many options. But first, they had to find a roof and a place to sleep. The road had been long, hard and cold, and it looked like it would start snowing again soon. Coralie kicked her horse into motion, and the black shapes that were her fellow Godslayers followed.
A few weeks later, Coralie wore the guise of one of Nalbin's many nobles. Her life and memories merged with Coralie's, providing thoughts of people and places she had never before encountered. The noblewoman whose life she had stolen was Sofia White, niece of one of the King's Ministers. Her estate was located behind the first layer of city walls, in the Merchant District. It was an unusual choice for a noble, but then again, Sofia White had been an unusual woman.
It was surprising for Coralie to learn from Sofia's memories that Sofia was an associate of the Godslayers.
Not only that, but Sofia White had been planning on betraying the Godslayers, before Coralie drank her blood and locked her away in the very walls of her own home.
From Sofia's memories, Coralie learned that Sofia had met with some of the Wardens, warning them of who Sofia suspected were Godslayers. Sofia suspected at least one of the King's Ministers was a Godslayer, and the Wardens promised to investigate this lead during the new year celebrations.
The new year celebrations were going to be held on the grounds of the Allsworth Estate. Annorae Allsworth had succeeded her father as the Diplomat of Nalbin, and was bringing everybody together for the new year to mark her rise. During the party, the Wardens were planning on investigating the homes of the Ministers.
So we know where the Wardens are going to be. Sal whispered in her mind, as Coralie faced her right hand man, Koragan.
"If you kill one of the Wardens at one of the Minister's estates and assume his form, you can infiltrate their mission." Koragan said, greedy-eyed. "We would be able to break the Wardens from within."
Coralie inclined her head. "We will meet them there."
A few days later, Coralie lurked in the home of one of the King's Ministers, Maxwell Drewyn. The house was guarded heavily, but the guards had no idea Coralie was there, even though one of the guards was a spirit.
The Wardens will surely be here soon. Sal's poisonous voice resounded in her mind.
Then she sensed magic - subtle magic. If not for the countless lifetimes of experience she had taken, Coralie would never have been able to detect it. But the Wardens were here, travelling under illusion magics, hiding their presence from the guards.
These Wardens are good. Coralie thought.
She stepped into the main hallway of the upper floor, her own form hidden by illusion magic. A guard stood there dumbly, holding a crossbow. He did not notice her, the light itself bent by Coralie to prevent his seeing her.
Downstairs. Sal said. The Wardens are downstairs.
Coralie walked past the unseeing guard, down the stairs. The Wardens had come to search for evidence that Maxwell Drewyn was a Godslayer. Instead they would find death.
She saw the Wardens, entering through the back door. The light bent around them, but she saw them anyway. Their leader made eye contact with Coralie, and his mouth opened in horror.
"She can see us."
Coralie smiled, threw back her head and shrieked. She could hear the guards in the house rushing down to see what had happened. The Wardens drew their weapons, panic on their faces. Crossbow bolts tore through the air in both directions, as Wardens and guards engaged.
Within fifteen minutes, the fighting was over. Coralie had killed and hidden one of the Wardens, assuming his identity. His name had been Vincento, a Warden from Varantium. As the Wardens fled from the house, their leader turned to the survivors.
"They took one of us prisoner. We need to get him out. I will get Attendant Elger. He will know what to do."
Vincento's memories were still fuzzy in Coralie's mind. She would need time to make sense of them.
"Are you well, brother?" the Warden leader asked. Coralie did not know his name, though Vincento's life would soon reveal it to her.
"I am well." Coralie rasped in reply. Then she heaved, and spat blood onto the cobbles.
"Get her back to headquarters." the leader said. "I'll get Elger."
They are taking you to their headquarters. Sal said excitedly. He was hidden in one of her pockets, as always. You've done it. Should I send for Koragan? Do we take them out in their sleep? Or do we bide our time?