Black and white. Light and darBlack and white. Light and dark. Mortal and immortal. Two sides of the same coin; one cannot exist without the other. This, Ryenna knew. Yet, she also knew life was not so simple. Between mortality and immortality, there was life. Between light and dark, there was dusk and dawn. Between black and white, there were colors. Colors of varying shades and vivid hues. Colors that made up the entirety of the world in a way that none could describe. It was something that could only be witnessed; experienced. And from that, one could learn and grow. From those colors, one could define their opinions and choices, their ideas and values. One could shape their life. Fate was theirs to chase, to hold on to, to mold. Their story was their own.
This was a truth. This was a truth despite all Ryenna had been told. It was a truth only her ancestors had known. A truth that was lost on most of humankind over the last thousand years. Ryenna carried this truth with her. Truths that had only turned to legends before soon being forgotten completely.
But her vision of the future became more and more clouded, tainted by the darkness that threatened the world of Praecanto. It came to Ryenna as a relief when Arandel finally approached her, her own vision just clear enough to warn Ryenna of the destruction that was about to unfold.
Arandel bowed her head low to her queen. The tall, pale skinned witch queen with the white-blonde hair smiled down at her advisor, speaking in a warm, comforting voice.
“Arandel, what has you so tense?”
“Your Grace,” Arandel started. “The time has come. The Aethereya have risen.”
Ryenna narrowed her eyes on her advisor, her breath caught in her throat for a moment. She pulled her shoulders back slightly and raised her chin as she spoke. “And what of the Aethereya?”
“The prophecies seem to hold true,” Arandel continued. “I have seen it myself. It will only be a matter of time before the two Aethereya reveal themselves. The Golden Aethereya will take the form of a young witch.”
“A witch,” Ryenna whispered. “That cannot be.”
“I cannot see how it is so,” Arandel said. “Which can only mean that a dark power is involved.”
“And what of the other?”
Arandel hesitated. “I have suspicions that the Silver Aethereya has already manifested itself, but I cannot be sure where it is.”
Dark magic always clouded her vision of the future, and the future had been clouded for some time. It only made sense that a dark magic was involved, but Ryenna could not explain how the darkness came to be in the first place. “Is there a break in the Inbetween?”
Arandel shook her head. “No, Your Grace. The seal remains intact. I can only assume a witch has escaped your ancestor’s curse and remains hidden in the world.” She paused a moment, then met the queen’s gaze. “They will try to kill the Golden Aethereya,” she continued. “Without her, the world you’ve built will fall. She must be protected.”
Ryenna hesitated. A vision of the two Aethereya; neither of them were as clear as they should have been. But for their vision of the Silver Aethereya to be so clouded… it could only mean that it was tainted by a dark power. Two sides of the same coin. Light and dark. Good and evil. Ryenna knew that the split of the spirit would only mean a great war between them. “When will the Golden Aethereya manifest?”
“Soon,” Arandel said. “Allies will be broken. Kingdoms will fall. The world of Praecanto will crumble.”
“This war is between the Aethereya,” Queen Ryenna said, a fierce edge in her voice. “I will not see the kingdoms destroy themselves over the Aethereya, or this world will already be lost before the real war can even begin.”
“I cannot see the future of our world,” Arandel continued softly. “The dark powers at hand continue to cloud my vision.”
Queen Ryenna turned her back to her advisor, her gaze on the long banners that draped the throne room walls. Each banner bore the mark of her ancestors, the creators of the world of Praecanto. She could not see that world fall after all her ancestors had done to keep it safe.
“I will do the only thing that can be done,” she said softly. “I will be sure that the Golden Aethereya will live to protect this world.”
Strikes of lightning split the sky and annihilated the earth. Thunder crashed violently, shaking the ground as it resounded through the kingdom. The road erupted and debris scattered away from the explosion with deadly force. Citizens jolted backwards, crashing against the walls of their shops and homes. Their bodies flew through the air like dolls being tossed between children; their limbs flailing before shattering when they landed forcefully on the ground. Blood seeped between the cracks in the stone, its sharp scent scarring the air as a reminder for the days ahead of the destruction that took place.
The muddied boots of Librona's armored soldiers splashed across the cobble-stoned road as they hurried to join the commotion in the town. Their battle cries were lost amidst the chaos of war thundering around them. Women and children scurried in every direction; their anguished screams and cries haunting the night. Deep voices barked orders only to be drowned in frantic desperation. Swords were drawn from their sheaths; the shwings of the steel threatened in unison. Their blades reflected the orange glow of a city in ruins. With them, unarmored citizens took up improvised weapons. Pitchforks, axes, and scythes paraded through the streets, gripped by calloused hands, eagerly joining the kingdom's army in the fight for their home.
The witch clad in black stood erect in the center of the town. Her golden eyes pierced the darkness as the dust lifted from the explosion. Her dark hair was obscured to the darkness of the stormy night, and stray strands of wet hair dragged across her pale face. Her black dress clung to her small, delicate frame and wrapped around her legs with the wind. She raised her head as she looked over the cowering village and she lifted her arms above her, palms up towards the angry sky.
A ball of fire grew from nothing above her, hovering just over her open palms. The flames flickered and danced, anxiously waiting to feed on the ruins of the village. The heat was warm and encouraging against her palms, and the glow of the flames was bright against the hollowness of the dreary night. But the warmth of the magic that coursed through her veins grew cold, and the fire in her palms shuttered and diminished.
The soldiers hesitated in their pursuit, their frightened eyes fixed on the magic that threatened their lives. The witch took advantage of their hesitation and hurled the fireball at her opponents. Soldiers and citizens scattered in all directions. Those who were too slow found themselves face to face with their death as the fireball exploded against the ground. The flames clung to the streets and rampaged through the village, feeding off of the wood homes, their wooden frames split and shattered. Old, thatched roofs erupted into a hellish inferno. The fire engulfed the buildings within seconds. The sound of crackling flames and collapsing homes mixed with the cries of terror and anguish from women and children. Bodies lay motionless around the city, burning. The scent of charred skin and hair mixed sickeningly in with the metallic scent of blood.
The witch gawked at the sight of the marred and mangled bodies, feeling a twinge of guilt in the pit of her stomach, but as the soldiers took up their weapons once more, she sent another fireball loose with a sense of desperate urgency. It exploded upon impact with the ground. Screams escaped from the burning homes that no longer offered safety to its residents. Bodies stumbled through the black smoke, coughing and choking and reaching for one another. The witch hesitated, flinching as the screams of those trapped inside rose above the crackling flames and stampeding soldiers. Her wide eyes darted around the burning village until she found the kingdom's soldiers once more.
The soldiers rushed towards her with swords in hand, their battle cries rising above the panicked city. The witch's frantic gaze remained as she feebly threw her arms out before her in an attempt to summon another spell. Her face creased with fear when no magic burst forth from her open palms. Her eyes darted between the charging soldiers, realizing then that she had grown too weak to continue the fight. The magic she had grown accustomed to, flowing warmly through her body, was thin and cold. She was empty. She closed her eyes.
A flash of light struck the town, temporarily blinding those within its walls. The soldiers shielded their eyes with their arms until the light subsided. When the world dimmed, they peeked between their arms to see that the witch with fire had vanished.
The rising sun peeked over the distant mountain range, its purple summits just shadows against a yellow morning sky. A lush valley stretched away from the mountains, sparkling with the glitter of morning dew, and disappeared into a vast forest. Leaves of browns and greens tickled the waking sky. An old, decaying castle sat quietly at the edge of the forest, under the looming shadows of the mountains. Black clouds stretched towards the mountain range, bringing with them the threat of a storm. Distant lightning flashed and cut through the sky.
Scarletta stood over a wooden table, worn and beaten; its nicks and dips held memories of struggled years as Scarletta anguished over each spell and potion she had created. Her vivid red locks fell swiftly across her face from their hold behind her ears as she mixed the colorful liquids. The glasses bubbled and steamed as each liquid was married to another. Red, green, and black smoke billowed over each vessel, filling the room with a scentless fog. The woman was still as her concoctions came to life, but her expression remained cold and hardened. She filled a needle with the liquid and walked to the far corner of the room where a dark shadow was huddled.
Golden eyes split the shadow and scanned the room in fright. Scarletta knelt on the ground beside the young woman and inserted the syringe into her arm. The golden eyes winced slightly, but otherwise, were still. When the syringe empty, Scarletta rose and returned to the table to carefully rearrange the glasses.
The young woman in the corner stood and stepped into the warm, yellow light that streamed through the dirty window behind her. Her dark hair framed her pale face and nearly blended in with her dark dress. The dress made her look remarkably plain, but her facial features were perfection, as if carefully sculpted by patient hands over many years. Her eyes – pained and sad – and brows were stunningly symmetrical, spaced evenly apart. Her brows arched neatly over her almond shaped eyes. They seemed to frame her small, straight nose just so, in the center of her face, just above her soft, pink lips. A sunken dimple emerged when her lips twisted to the side, but otherwise, her skin was smooth and ageless. Not a scar or imperfection marked her young, delicate, but rigged body.
“Does it please you, Calliope?” Scarletta asked. She did not turn to the witch behind her. She worked at clearing the glasses and gathering the pages that were scattered on the table. “Does it satisfy you to disappoint me?”
The witch behind her did not speak. She remained perfectly still, waiting to feel the wrath of her master.
Scarletta, however, did not expect a response. She turned to the young witch, her wavy red hair twisting around her and caressing her frame. Her gaze narrowed on her witch.
“You are careless,” she scolded. “They will not show you mercy.”
Calliope nodded without uttering a word. She forced her shoulders back, appearing confident as Scarletta looked her over, but her heart raced and her knees trembled under her master’s powerful glare. “I will be better,” she said softly.
“I put a lot of time and effort into you,” Scarletta said. The corner of her lips twitched slightly. “I expect you to use yourself to your full potential. I am not finished with you yet, but I will throw you to the Nequam if you continue to fail me.”
Calliope winced at the remark, stepping back slightly as if to catch herself from a fierce blow.
A small smile pulled at her lips, and Scarletta turned back to the table, marrying the liquids together. “You are very important to me, Calliope. I gave you life. I gave you purpose.” Her smile faded. “Do not forget all I have done for you.”
“I exist to serve you,” Calliope said. “I will destroy the kingdom for what they did to you.”
“Do not come back until the job is finished. Then, we will go to Alryn together, and I will tear King Sloan limb from limb.” Her voice hardened. “Spare your strength. Do not let me down.”
Without a word, Calliope turned and let herself out of the dim room. Scarletta continued to busy herself with her potions for a moment, then turned and approached the nearby window. She smiled as she gazed out over the forest and toward the horizon.
Though she could not see the village, dark plumes of smoke marred the sky from the earlier attack. There was no doubt in her mind that Calliope was far superior to her other witches, despite her carelessness. Soon, all of the kingdom of Librona would look the way the sleepy village of Talmond did. Scarletta would have the revenge she waited for.
Librona’s soldiers traveled north towards Alryn, the capital city of Librona where the castle of House Sloan stood tall at the northern border. They galloped their horses through the waking and unaware city, following the cobblestone streets up the hill and through the front gates of the castle grounds, stopping only when they reached the front courtyard. The captain of their battalion slid off his horse as they came to a stop and bowed his head to King Sloan as he trotted down the stone steps of the castle.
“There has been an attack on Talmond,” the soldier explained. “One of Scarletta’s witches.”
King Sloan’s jaw clenched. “What are the damages?”
“The city is in ruins. Everything is destroyed. There are many civilian casualties as well.”
“Where is the witch?” the king said between his teeth.
“It just vanished. I have dispatched my men to search for it.” His tone changed, hopeful. “It appears to be weak.”
King Sloan turned his gaze to the horizon. The corner of his lip pulled slightly. “That means nothing,” he hissed. “Do not underestimate Scarletta’s power.” He turned his attention back to the captain. “We must be proactive in weakening Scarletta’s defenses. Find that witch and destroy it.”
The soldier bowed to his king, then mounted his horse once more. He shouted to his troops, ordering them to begin their search through the kingdom of Librona. They took off at a gallop through the city and towards the distant forest that marked Librona’s southern boundary. The forest of Do’lor was large and dense. Not only did it make travel difficult, but it also deterred the southern kingdom of In’audis from providing any assistance to Librona in their war against Scarletta.
Librona's only other neighbor and ally remained to the north of them; the seaside kingdom of Asmar. While the kingdom aided them in the past, they quickly withdrew after the death of their beloved king. The kingdom refused to help their southern ally as their own kingdom struggled to remain afloat under their young ruler. With no other heir, their focus was to keep their kingdom alive for as long as possible.
King Sloan stood on the steps of his castle, gazing over the waking city. The kingdom struggled in their war against Scarletta without an ally, especially after Asmar pulled out of the war. King Sloan never doubted King Rowan's decision, but they were crumbling under Scarletta's reign of terror, and Asmar would surely be next.
He absentmindedly stroked his beard, his eyes fixed on the horizon. Over the years, King Sloan couldn't help but to slowly lose hope in their war against the red-haired witch. He didn't know how much longer his kingdom would last; the odds did not seem to be in his favor. His stomach churned as his mind turned to his wife and children. He never wanted his children to grow up in a world where war threatened their home. He would keep them safe at any cost. Perhaps King Rowan would let them stay in Asmar while the war raged on in Librona. Surely even he couldn't hold King Sloan’s children responsible for the demise that had befallen Asmar.
King Sloan headed inside the castle as the sun came out from hiding beyond the horizon. With Scarletta's attacks still on his mind, he made his way towards the tactical room. Regardless of their situation, he had a kingdom to run and to fight for. He would fight to the very end for his kingdom, but not blindly. He needed a plan. He needed to ensure his family's safety and he needed to prepare his army for battle. Not only that, but he needed to warn the other kingdoms of Praecanto. Should Librona fall, there was no doubt in his mind that Scarletta would turn her attention to them. She would not be satisfied until the world of humans was no more.
King Sloan stopped as he walked through the empty throne room. He gazed up at the banners that hung above the red, velvet throne and felt a sudden wave of defeat wash over him. Scarletta needed to be stopped, but with each passing day, that seemed less and less possible. He couldn't bear to think that he could be Librona's final king, but his options were dwindling rapidly.
Images of his father played through his mind as his gaze fell to the throne before him. As a child, when he wasn't at his father's side, he sat on that very throne, pretending to be the king. “Sloan, a king must be fair and just,” his father would say to him. “Sometimes the solution isn't clear. Sometimes things aren't black and white. The world is gray, Sloan. It is your job, as the future king, to bring the color into the world. Do not be quick to judge those who have made mistakes.”
He had always looked up to his father. He strived each and every day to be a king his father would be proud of and to continue to earn respect for the Martel lineage. His father never gave up, nor should he. He would fight for his kingdom, even if it meant fighting to the end. He would fight to bring the color back into their gray world.
The council hall had been erected nearly a hundred years ago along the coast of the Animula Sea between the borders of In’audis and Teridia, a central location for the leaders of each kingdom to gather. After its completion, the land around it became unowned territory where the seven kingdoms of Praecanto could meet peacefully, regardless of warfare or political standings. It had been many years since it last saw the kings and queens of Praecanto, but now, the faces of each leader was of a new generation.
Though the building held a lot of history and discussions within its walls, the structure itself was not extravagant. It consisted of one large room, the walls tall enough to hold the banners of each of the seven kingdoms of Praecanto. Three lined the walls on either side of the large double doors with long windows between each of them. The seventh and largest banner hung by itself on the wall across from the double doors framed by two more windows on either side of it. In the center of the room was an oversized table with five chairs on either side and two at each end.
Guards bearing the emblems of six of the kingdoms stood guard around the premises, and more accompanied each of their respected leaders, standing along the interior stone walls as their leaders sat themselves around the table. King Sloan took the chair at the far end, the banner of Ri’iam framing him from behind. His son, Lucas, took the seat beside him. King Sloan looked around at his allies, nodding to them as they each took their own seats. Lucas regarded them curiously.
To his left, filling the five chairs on that side of the table, were the leaders of the far eastern kingdom of Nyrdirid. Queen Draneya and Queen Hevi’ra sat close together, warm smiles on both of their faces. While Queen Hevi’ra had her long hair pulled back in tightly braided dreads, Queen Draneya kept hers down, loose curls bouncing freely around her face as she turned her head to chat quietly with her wife. Beside them was the drastically paler Queen Amisha of the kingdom of Qalede. Her dark hair matched her dark eyes, both striking against her pale white skin. Kings Vaerta and Co’nitia of Teridia took up the remaining two chairs.
There was a sense of comradery on the left side of the table. The three queens and the two kings of the east clearly formed a close friendship with one another over the years as they chatted quietly together. Their eyes pulled at the corners when they smiled - genuine happiness to be in the presence of one another. So had it always been, for as long as King Sloan could remember. Perhaps it was due in part to the great forest that split the content in two. Librona certainly had very little trade with the three eastern kingdoms, but even so, their relationships with their own neighbors, Asmar and In’audis, were strained to say the least. And the right side of the table proved to be less welcoming to one another.
To his right were King Cederic of In’audis and King Rowan of Asmar. King Rowan sat on the far end, leaving three empty chairs between him and King Cederic. He was the youngest of the rulers of Praecanto. Incredibly young, in fact. His blond hair hung boyishly over his forehead, ending just at his brows. His expression was creased fiercely, and he made no attempt to greet any of his fellow leaders, avoiding each of their gazes as they took their seats around the table.
“Thank you for coming,” King Sloan addressed the group once everyone had settled. “As you may know, my kingdom is suffering under the threat of Scarletta. Her recent witch has been wreaking havoc on the villages across Librona. I simply do not have the resources to offer my people protection and to find Scarletta’s whereabouts.” He paused for a moment, letting his gaze settle on the young king of Asmar, but King Rowan did not move his eyes from his gaze on the wooden table.
“I know some of you have offered assistance to Librona in the past. I have tried to keep you all away from this terror, but I fear that we won’t be able to hold our defenses much longer. And if we fall, there is no doubt in my mind that Scarletta will come to destroy the rest of the kingdoms. We must work together to prevent that from happening and keep our world safe.”
“And what do you think you’re going to do if you find Scarletta?” King Cederic asked, his gaze narrowing on King Sloan. “Surely you can’t expect to be able to stop her. What chance do any of us stand against her power?”
“It is unlikely Scarletta is as powerful as she is leading us to believe. In all these years, she has never once stepped out of hiding. She has only sent her own witches into the kingdom, and even they’re power is flawed.”
“How can you make such assumptions?” King Cederic pressed.
“Scarletta is no ordinary witch,” Queen Draneya spoke up in a rather bored tone. She inspected her nails as she spoke. “In fact, she’s just as human as you and I.”
“Mortal,” Queen Hev’ira confirmed with a nod.
King Cederic turned his gaze to the Nydirid queens. “How can you possibly know this?”
Queen Draneya turned her attention to King Sloan. “Your father found Serafina, did he not?”
“He did,” King Sloan said simply.
“And he murdered her,” Queen Hevi’ra said with a slight hiss in her voice. Her gaze hardened on the king.
“Of course,” King Sloan said.
“Serafina begged for the life of her daughters,” Queen Draneya continued. “To spare them, for they were only children. Human children.”
“Children that possess magic,” King Sloan said, narrowing his gaze on her. “Scarletta has gone undetected for almost half a century. She poses a threat, not only to my kingdom, but to all of yours as well.”
“And what of her witch?” Queen Draneya pressed. “What will become of her?”
“She must be killed,” King Sloan said slowly, as if it should have been obvious. “Just as Scarletta must be killed.”
Queen Hevi’ra stood abruptly, almost knocking over the chair behind her. Her lips pulled up at the corners into an almost inhuman snarl. “How can you be so crass in such a situation?”
King Sloan’s brows furrowed in confusion. The other kings and queens turned their questionable gazes to the two Nydirid queens.
“Crass?” King Cederic echoed. “This is a witch we’re talking about,” he said. “Are you suggesting her life be spared?”
“I’m suggesting you not take the situation so lightly,” Queen Hevi’ra said through gritted teeth.
Queen Draneya put a hand on her wife’s arm, and Queen Hevi’ra returned to her seat, her gaze still fierce.
“We understand you want to protect your kingdom, King Sloan,” Queen Draneya said gently. “You and King Rowan have seen more than enough death and destruction at the hands of Scarletta and her witches. We want to help you bring the suffering to an end, but we cannot possibly stand by and let you murder her witch.”
The lines in King Sloan’s forehead deepened. “And why is that?”
“It is a delicate situation,” Queen Draneya explained. “One that cannot be taken so lightly. Certainly not without discussing it with Queen Ryenna.”
“Queen Ryenna has never bothered herself with the rest of us,” King Rowan said with a snarl, speaking for the first time. “Even now, she’s not here. Why should she be of any concern to us?”
“I realize you’ve been huddled in your own corner of the world, King Rowan,” Queen Hevi’ra said through her teeth. “But Queen Ryenna remains this world’s leader. She comes from a long line of Cælé, the very people that created this world.”
King Rowan narrowed his eyes on them. “Cælé?” he repeated. “Are you suggesting Queen Ryenna is a God?”
Queen Hevi’ra’s lips pulled into a sly smile. She regarded the leaders on the opposite side of the table. “No, certainly not,” she said. She lifted her chin as she regarded the young king. “She possesses magic far beyond what your small mind could imagine.”
Queen Hevi’ra’s words hung over them as the room fell silent. The leaders each looked to one another in confusion. King Rowan stood and leaned his palms against the table.
“Lies,” he hissed. “Witches do not belong in this world. They are unpredictable and full of evil intentions.”
Queen Hevi’ra stood once more, leaning over the table as she spoke to King Rowan. “While the history of Praecanto may be lost on you, it is not lost on us. The Cælé are responsible for all life on Praecanto. This world has never belonged to humans. It was a world of magic and power.”
“Then where are these witches now?” King Cederic asked over the Nydirid queen.
Queen Hevi’ra hesitated, her eyes moving to the side as she glanced at King Cederic. “They were banished,” she said softly. “Banished when they started using dark magic.”
“And yet Queen Ryenna remains,” King Rowan hissed.
“Queen Ryenna is no mere witch,” Queen Draneya said. “Do not mistake the Cælé for witches. She has done nothing but keep peace in Praecanto. Under her rule, we have been safe. She is responsible for keeping the dark magic sealed away. Without her, the witches would be able to return and destroy us all.”
“And yet you defend Scarletta’s witch; the witch that threatens our entire world,” King Rowan barked.
“We do not defend her,” Queen Draneya said, her voice calm and even. “But if she were a threat, if she wielded a dark magic, she would have been sucked into the seal of the Inbetween years ago. Queen Ryenna would have seen to that.”
“And yet she does nothing,” King Rowan said, his voice a low growl. “She is content to stand by and watch this world fall to the very things she created. Seems convenient, if you ask me.”
“You distrust Queen Ryenna?” Queen Draneya asked, her gaze narrowing on the king.
“We have no reason to trust her,” he said simply.
Queen Draneya stood beside her wife, turning to address the other rulers. “We are more than happy to help you in your war against Scarletta, King Sloan. Regardless of Scarletta’s family history, she is a threat that needs to be dealt with. But we cannot stand idly by if you plan to kill her witch. This is a matter that must be presented to Queen Ryenna and handled as she deems necessary. Our faith is in the Cælé, as it should be for all of you. If you stand against the Cælé, however, you will not have an ally in Nydirid. My kingdom is well aware of all the Cælé have done to keep this world safe. I am sorry that history has been lost on the rest of you, but we stand by Queen Ryenna. The choice is yours.”
“If you choose Queen Ryenna,” King Rowan said, directing his gaze first to King Sloan, and then to the rest of the rulers around the table. “You will have Asmar as an enemy.”
“King Rowan,” Sloan started, his voice soft. “I sympathize with you. But it would be unwise to stand against Queen Ryenna.”
“What do you think you’re going to do?” Queen Hevi’ra asked, her gaze narrowed on King Rowan.
King Rowan held his gaze on her. “Nothing,” he said simply. “But I will not aid those who place their trust in a witch.”
“You’re a fool,” Queen Hevi’ra hissed.
“I will have no part of this,” King Rowan said firmly. He turned his attention back to King Sloan. “Do as you please, but know that Asmar is no longer your ally, Sloan. Do not seek our help any more. We have done enough for you.” The last part he said with a wicked hiss. Without a word further, he stood, turned his back on the council, and left the hall. No one spoke further until the double doors closed loudly behind him.
King Sloan addressed the rest of the members of the council. “If Queen Ryenna can help us, then we should seek her assistance. I will cooperate, Queen Hevi’ra. The witch will remain unharmed until Queen Ryenna gives us word otherwise. If we come across the witch, we will hold her until Scarletta is defeated and Queen Ryenna makes a decision about her. Do we have your cooperation in our war against Scarletta?”
The two queens of Nydirid, now seated, nodded in silent agreement. King Sloan moved his gaze around to the other rulers, and one by one, they nodded as well.
“I do not wish to see strife between us,” King Cederic said. “We have lived in peace amongst one another for quite a long time. However, I do hope you are right about Queen Ryenna.”
“What about King Rowan?” Queen Amisha asked.
“I suspect he will stay to himself,” King Sloan said. “He should cause us no trouble.”
A raven’s caw echoed off the waves of the sea as King Rowan stood on the beach, looking out over the horizon. Somewhere across the sea, somewhere he had never seen with his own eyes, sat the great island kingdom of Ri’iam where Queen Ryenna ruled. He narrowed his gaze on the horizon. How foolish he felt, knowing so little about the kingdom and its witch queen. He was infuriated that the queens of Nydirid supported the witch. However, it seemed no mere coincidence. He had always been suspicious that there were more witches hiding throughout the world. He knew now that Ryenna was one, and based on what had just happened in the council hall, he was sure the Nydirid queens were witches, as well.
Of course Ryenna would have spies all around Praecanto. He didn’t know how many more there were, but one thing was certain: he couldn’t trust anyone. Witches did not belong in the moral world. He knew first hand of the destruction they could - and would - cause. There was simply no such thing as a good witch.
Queen Ryenna needed to be stopped before witches inhabited the world once more. But surely he would not stand a chance with such a powerful being. Not him, a mere mortal human. But perhaps… another witch. Or, in this case, half witch. A mortal witch.
Working with a witch was the last thing he wanted to do, but if what was said was true, Scarletta wouldn’t pose nearly as big a threat. Being human, after all, made her flawed. Surely she could be reasoned with. Plotted against. Killed.
It was the perfect plan. He would approach Scarletta with his proposition; her help in ending Queen Ryenna in exchange for… well, whatever she wanted. It didn’t matter to him, because he would not hold up his end of the deal. As soon as Queen Ryenna was gone, he would destroy Scarletta as well. He would bring an end to witches once and for all. Praecanto would remain the mortal world it always was and was always meant to be.
King Rowan turned his gaze to the raven that continued to crow. The jet black creature stood alone on a branch of an old, barren and decaying tree standing just on the edge of the beach where the sand met the tall grass. Its silver eyes were unsettling in contrast to its dark body. King Rowan made his way back to his soldiers, waiting on the dirt road with his horse. The raven’s eyes darted, its head cocked, and it stretched its wings and took flight above the King of Asmar, fading in the distance.