White Destiny #10 (Rev 4)

Alexander D’Amore was a troublemaker and a murderer. Those who crossed him, if lucky, would be found in one of the mass graves outside Ironheart. And yet, he was never found guilty of such crimes; a combination of corruption, fear, and confusion kept him far from the chopping stone.

The only crimes he had been charged with were sex-related; these were the crimes he chose to be associated with, these were the proofs of a predator, these were his trophies. In the end, each indictment only served to bolster his oversized ego when no one could enforce the church’s rulings.

Then, there was the princess and the baron, who could, maybe, put an end to this charade once and for all. But they would never do that as long as they still got hold of the dagger’s handle. This was what the D’Amore family meant to the crown: loyalists who went outside the boundaries of the laws to enforce the Ruby Garden’s will.

Everyone who had taken a dip in politics knew as much.

Thomas Jeremy Clevandi owned the inventor nothing. At a mere glimpse of a troublesome discussion ahead, the merchant picked up his sleepy son, dropped some coins on the counter and stood up.

“Oh wow, if you look at the time, gentlemen. I really have to go now. See you!” he waved his hand and turned on his heel.

He sure made quick strides to the exit.

Not much was going on in the tavern when Alex took the empty seat next to Leo. Scattered around the tables were armed mercenaries, casually walking in and taking seats at every corner of the tavern. When Thomas pushed on the door, he ran the wooden frame into a man standing guard. Leo could see at least two sentries outside as they let the merchant and his son out.

What happened to the league of angry husbands and fathers was of anybody’s guess but no one was entering despite the rowdiness outside.

“Okay, listen, Alex,” the inventor sighed, “There are ten, eh, fifteen meatheads in here who can snap a neck or two perfectly fine. You don’t have to drag me into this.”

The count sneered, “Two hundreds of them wouldn’t match a mage. No, no, Leo. I need a mage to get rid of another mage. Lilia, Felacia, Graham are out of the question for obvious reasons. That leaves me with only one option, Leo. You know what it is…”

He wanted to call upon the witch’s assistance. She permitted only customers who had attained the highest membership tier to request a curse. That would be Father Felacia and Leonardo di Price.

Alex was not wrong. This was indeed a request only Leo could make.

“Sorry, it’s impossible,” the inventor shook his head. “I can’t help you with that. She is dead. You need a spirit whisperer, not me.”

The count burst into laughter, “That’s funny because I heard she was the only spirit whisperer we have in this half of the world,” he remarked, not hiding his sarcasm.

“Well then, you’re out of luck,” the inventor summed up. He too laughed at the dilemma.

Suddenly, Alex swept his arms across the counter bar, knocking everything down to the floor. His laughter disappeared and there was only fury in his eyes.

“Do you think I’m stupid? I know she is not dead!”

The enraged man slammed a stack of pamphlets on the counter bar and sank a dagger into it.

“This crap is clogging every sewer in West Rufus. Her broom returned last moon to dump another load after the rain at ten washed away the previous load.”

Leo glimpsed at the pamphlets and, within seconds, became dumbfounded. The witch reopened her occult shop. The pamphlet, written in barely legible handwritings, informed patrons of her return and the timing. A few of these pamphlets had a background sketch of a dragon’s head in a square, and decorative runes at the corners.

“That idiot…” the inventor grumbled.

She was selling tickets to the reopening ceremony; two-hundred and fifty pris a soul, the fifth purchase would be free. Also specified in five passages of small writings were: no membership discount, front row seats available to “best friend” membership tier and above, waiver of liabilities for collateral damage etc. and etc.

“What is this farce?” he uttered.

“The sort of farce that has your name on it!” Alex snapped.

He was right. Leo’s name was indeed written on the pamphlet. His title, “the inventor”, appeared on the list of “authorized vendors” written on the other side.

“Look, Alex, there seems to be a misunderstanding here,” the inventor tried to explain.

“Shut up. You’re stalling, aren’t you? I’ll make this very straightforward and simple. You, ask you-know-who, to curse the other you-know-who. If I don’t see that other you-know-who dead by dawn, your precious journals will go into the fire pit and your girl will go on a boat to the rim as a slave.”

“My what?”

“Three stacks of dirty papers and that amber-eyed girl from your workshop.”

“You broke into my workshop!?”

Leo grabbed the man in front of him by the collar. His blood was boiling. The angrier he was, the louder the count’s laughter became.

“Yes, yes, yes, Leo!” Alex exhilarated, “I took your treasure. I took your woman. I turned her into a swallow and kept her in a cage. What can you do about it?”

Leo’s eyes glanced at the dagger on the counter. His hands instinctively grabbed the handle and pointed the tip at Alex. Three mercenaries immediately stepped in. They removed the dagger from his hand and pinned his face against the wet counter.

“I’m going to kill you, bastard!”

“Get in the line, Leo!” the count retorted, taking a jab at Leo’s stomach.

The blow knocked air out of his lung, Leo could barely stay on his feet. Another blow, this time from behind, take him down. His face lay on top of fragments of glasses.

“Two punches. Really? You can only take two punches? How the hell someone as pathetic as you are can lay hands on a goddess. Get outta here, Leo. She’s mine!”

“So…that’s what…this is about eh?”

This bastard only wanted a reason to beat him up out of jealousy. He only wanted a reason to steal another man’s woman. He enjoyed this. He was infamous for this. Only an idiot would believe he had a rational reason. Only an idiot like Leo would believe the self-proclaim centaur-born dickhead would act better than a mindless beast.

Leo dragged himself up. Damn, this hurt. But, he must not be on his face. He must sit up at the very least.

And so he did. Cracking a sneer, he stared at the count in disgust and spoke:

“Take her! I don’t give a pris! But, don’t you dare lay a finger on my sketches! Touch my babies and I’ll blow your entire den up.”

Before Alex could utter a retort, one of his sentries flew in from the front door and landed on his back. Within seconds, swords were sheathed, axes raised, halberds turned and bows aimed at the tavern’s door.

A round metal shield barged in. All eyes fell on the hammer and pickaxe crest of Ironheart which was stained in fresh blood. The ironclad giants had to bow their heads to fit under the door frame. Two elite knights emerged in full plate mail. They cast their halberds aside and drew short swords from scabbards strapped to the waists.

“Alexander D’Amore, your fugitive life ends here. You are under arrest,” the red-head knight announced and slid down the cover of her helm.

Behind Katherine was Steve the Ironsmith, and the knight captain, Joshua, who smacked the hilt of his sword against his shield twice and declared the tavern a free-to-kill war zone. Following the captain’s ferocious war cry, the three of them leaped into action and swung their weapons at the armed mercenaries. Three of them versus fifteen mercenaries in a no-holds-barred battle to the death…

White Destiny #9 (Rev 4)

CHAPTER 3: DEATH IS IN THE SILK;

Alexander D’Amore was the first to be chosen as a suitor of Princess Lilia. Leonardo de Price was the second suitor. The third likely candidate, according to Sir Richard’s speculation, was Father Graham. The heiresses of Silverflow traditionally choose one candidate from each faction in the council. In the church of the spirits, the deacon was the only person young enough to be a suitor.

A few hours after he departed from the Ruby Garden castle, the inventor and his myriad of thoughts wandered into Brown’s Boulder tavern. The second period of lunar daylight began while he drank away self-doubts and this lingering sensation of a silk string in his grasp.

“Brown, refill!” he ordered, sliding an empty mug to the bartender behind the bar counter.

“This is an obscene amount of ale ye drank tonight. Heard Rick called ye in, what happened?” the bartender asked.

“Don’t remind me. I want to forget all about it. I mean, he thinks I possess carnal desire rivaling that of Alex!”

The master of trade, the merchant, coughed and spilled white wine all over the counter upon hearing Leo’s answer. The bartender threw a piece of cloth at the spillage in front of the merchant and uttered.

“Yer drunk, Leo. He did not say that. Pay for the ale and go home.”

Wiping his glass and then the counter clean of spilled wine, the merchant pointed his thumb at the inventor and said.

“Put the wine on his tab.”

“I’m serious. He said the princess told him just how vulgar I was to her. I was as bad as Alex, if not worse, she said. Am I that vulgar?” Leo asked.

“Yer not. Sometimes, but not always…”

“Not always? When am I that vulgar?” he pressed.

“Errr…see, princess called ye “vulgar lowlife” the other moon, nay?”

“That doesn’t mean I lust after her!”

After a loud gasp, the young boy who was napping next to the merchant perked right up. He casted his drowsy eyes around, confused.

It appeared the inventor’s loud response had woken up the merchant’s son. The merchant hissed, putting a finger on his lips, “Quiet, let him rest,” he shushed.

“Yer not wrong. Saying yer as bad as Alex was a tad too much. Ain’t anybody could be as bad as Alex…” the bartender shrugged.

“I know right? Seriously…what is she thinking?” Leo grumbled.

“I used to ask myself the same question. In pursuit of my wife, I took great interests in learning what’s in her head. And, I can tell you the cavern of her psyche makes Copperfang cavern look like an eight-year-old secret base,” the merchant remarked, passing the bartender the cloth soaked in wine.

Thomas Jeremy Clevandi had a wife and a son in Ironheart. His son was always seen accompanying him to markets and taverns. His wife, however, was never seen. He loved to talk about his wife but he avoided questions in regards to her whereabouts and identity.

Unlike the father, the boy spoke no words of his mysterious mother. He was mute and if the fact that he always cried when someone asked about his mother was of any indication, the woman who had stolen the heart of Thomas Jeremy Clevandi must have long departed from this world.

“There was this time when I visited a faraway tribe in the rim of the world. I met the chieftain, the shrewdest man I have ever encountered. He taught me a trick to figure out exactly what’s on the mind of any women. His five wives stood testify to his trick. If anything, it worked on my wife too.”

“What is this trick?” Leo asked.

“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you,” said the guy who drank nothing but expensive wines.

“Alright, you can have my ale,” Leo handed him the ale mug.

“Price, don’t be such a cheap bastard. You’ll never get a good deal by saving a few pris on the formalities. Get me at least cider then we’ll talk.”

True. It was a minor expense to learn a trick that useful from the rim of the world. And so, the inventor made the order and the bartender delivered. The volume was less than if it had been ale but the amount of money he had to pay for the glass was the same.

Thomas rotated the glass of dark red cider slowly in his hand as he shared: “My wife loves this drink. These little snowflakes remind me of that winter night in Silver Gallop peninsula. That night, I was playing cards with the first mate on the bridge of our flagship when an iceberg—”

“Excuse me. I didn’t buy you a drink to reminisce the time you camp on an iceberg. Tell me now, what is the trick the chieftain taught you,” the inventor interrupted.

“Ah yes, the trick,” the merchant took a sip of the cider, following a brief contemplation. “Talk to her. Ask her. Grow a pair and ask, or turn into a woman and ask your own sissy mind,” he said.

Leo was not amused.

“I’m glad you’re entertained, Clevandi. The cider is on you and so is the wine,” Leo hissed.

Thomas snickered. This man did not need anyone pay for his bill. With the wealth he had amassed in his career as a merchant to the world’s rim, he could buy the entire tavern, possibly the entire neighborhood if he felt like doing so.

He leaned towards the inventor and gave him a nudge.

“Now, now, I do mean it. The only sure way to find out what a woman was thinking is ask. They are mysterious creatures; confusing and deceptive to everyone including themselves. While this is true for some men too, you will find that men are more…purposeful and rational, hence guessable and negotiable. Guessing won’t do for women, asking will. Do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because asking means respecting and you don’t get enough respect as a woman in these parts of the world.”

“Sorry,” Leo raised his hand to interrupt, “I think we have a misunderstanding here. The princess likes the idea that I lusted after her. She likes the idea that I was disrespectful to her.”

Thomas paused for a moment. He uttered a quiet “What?” under his breath, and then resigned to the inevitable reaction:

“You know what? You’re drunk. That can’t possibly be true.”

“I am telling the truth!” Leo protested.

“There are only two kinds of men known to Lilia Silverflow: the baron and me. And I thought you were more virtuous than this. Heck, I thought you were on Rick’s team.”

“Alex, you cockroach! Where have you been?”

Approaching them from behind was Alexander D’Amore. There, patting on the inventor’s back and chuckling to himself was the charming lad who made himself the enemies of all men in Ironheart.

“Greetings, Leo, Thomas. I’m here to welcome the poor sap behind me in the line, the line to the executioner’s axe that is. But enough chit chat for now, I’ll get to the point. Leo…”

“Yes?”

“Get rid of the other guy or one of us will die. The baron told you whom she would pick. Get rid of him.”

White Destiny #8 (Rev 4)

There was a hole on the wall next to the alchemist’s quarter’s steel gate. A veil of illusory magic hid the hole from unsuspecting passersby, seeming as though it was a solid granite wall from the view of untrained eyes. But the magic was not permanent; nothing was. The illusion fizzled out when the last rays of moonlight faded from the sky and the dark night descended.

In Ashlora, a quarter of the visible night sky was covered by the moon. The celestial giant was so close, so bright, that its warm crimson light substituted the sun after sunset. The solar night was never dark, except during a brief three hours lunar eclipse that took place once every moon. Half the world of Ashlora was plunged into true dark night while the other half glowed in the sky behind the dark moon, a black pearl on the brass ring of the world as described in literature.

In a torus world like Ashlora, twilight in lunar daylight lasted only a few seconds. Darkness invaded the landscape, swallowed whole the world around the inventor in one giant gulp. The shift from brightness to darkness was so sudden, so short that the mortal eyes could not follow.

After a few blinks, Leo opened his eyes, then adjusted to the night hours of a moon. The princess and the knights rushed him out of the alchemist’s quarter before the automatic braziers filled the hallways with light.

The baron had ordered the red-helm knights to bring Leo in. The group parted ways after they entered the Ruby Garden castle. The princess, Katherine and Joshua—the short knight who wielded the golden gauntlet of a knight captain—took a left turn to the living quarters. The other two knights escorted Leo to the courtroom where the baron awaited.

Ceiling banners bearing Ironheart’s hammer and pickaxe insignia hung overhead. Smack dab in the middle of the spacious granite chamber a crimson throne carved out of solid red oak. The base, along with the back and the arm rests, of the throne came from the same slab of luminescent ruby. It was said that the ruby throne shed light in acceptance of its rightful possessor, but the baron proved the throne would glow to anybody.

Sir Richard appeared in public in his dull plate mail, accompanied by his elite red-helm knights. He ranked below count D’Amore in the family but, in consideration of the count’s indecency, the previous queen appointed the baron as the princess’s regent.

True to her expectations, Sir Richard was a servant of unwavering loyalty, a strong and incorruptible figure. Outside of public contexts, it was not uncommon to see him alone in casual clothing.

When it came to the clothes he donned, the word “casual” carried a literal meaning. For a man who was entrusted with the highest authority in Ironheart, the outfit he greeted Leo in was that of a humble footman. A weathered linen shirt covered his broad torso. Brown leather belt, elbow and knee guard differentiated a warrior from a peasant. Only a dagger strapped to his right waist. His usual round shield and short sword were nowhere in sight. The sleeves of his shirt were torn off; one in combat and the other by the baron himself to aesthetically balance the two shoulders.

There were dark brown splatters of old blood stains across the chest. He said these were of the brothers and sisters he had lost in battle, and he had them ingrained in the fabric with magic in remembrance. It was also the touch of magic that mended the wears and tears of the fabric.

At one point, Leo recalled, the baron revealed how Princess Lilia may resemble her mother in appearance, but her skill with a needle was no smoother than a donkey on a broken leg. Magic was the only thing she was good at, until the baron discovered she possessed the mind of a brilliant scholar and sent her to study in the Academy.

The two red-helm knights withdrew from the premise at a swift motion of his hand. The baron, crossing his legs on the ruby throne, ordered the inventor to come closer. Those in power always expected others to come to them instead of the opposite. In this manner, Sir Richard was no different from Lilia.

There was a simple stool, on which Leo was instructed to sit, a meter and a half away from the throne. Sir Richard liked to keep his attendants at close proximity. Even without a suit of armor, the baron and his warrior build overwhelmed the inventor’s slim and rather whimsical physique. Depending on one’s interpretation, this set up could be seen as respectful or intimidating.

For the inventor, who was not told why he had been summoned, it was the latter case.

Sir Richard began in a loud and clear voice, striking an acute and decisive intonation. He talked about the town hall meeting five moons ago. At first, he complained about the lack of participants and reprimanded Leo for skipping the meeting.

“The last time I checked, Steve didn’t come either.”

“Nobody cares if Steve comes or not, we all know abstain is his opinion. You, on the other hand, are the heart of this secession. It is pointless to discuss anything without your votes to back them up. Not to mention…”

The baron talked about the princess, who crashed into the meeting, uninvited. And then he talked about how Alexander D’Amore burned a magic scroll, how the count turned himself into a frog, how he leaped out of the second story’s window to avoid capture.

And how that idiot broke his own legs in the fall…

The scroll Alex burned contained an illusion spell, not a transformation spell. He got it coming for not reading the fine print.

“And he escaped with a pair of broken legs?”

“That, yes that! That is the amusing part,” the baron mused as he continued.

There was a letter from the count addressed to the baron and this letter arrived at the castle last moon.

In two thirds of the letter, Alex gloated over the leap of faith and the subsequent miraculous escape. In the last one third, he wrote to excuse himself from his duties for a few days. He declared medical leave, but what he described was more like a luxury vacation, alongside a harem of well-endowed caretakers in a picturesque cottage on the bank of river Sane.

All this talk about the great misadventure of the frog prince was amusing and all, but never the baron’s concern.

“Don’t misunderstand me. I want you to tell the princess his whereabouts and lure her way from our business. You will, of course, take part in the next meeting at moon fourteen without fail. Are we clear?” the baron commanded.

“Crystal clear,” Leo replied.

“Speaking of the princess, did she ask you to undress her today?”

Leo frowned at the question.

“Uh, she did…just before I was brought here.”

“She followed through, I see,” the baron muttered to himself, pausing for a moment before he addressed the inventor again, “That’s an interesting reaction you have there. How did it go? Did you undress her?”

“With all due respects, sir, do you think if I did, I would still be sitting here?”

“Who knows? When her mother asked me the same thing, I did, and I’m still sitting here as you can see. Now, listen closely…”

Sir Richard shifted his tone; he spoke in a quiet and deep voice. The secret he was about to reveal was deemed more valuable than the inventor’s insignificant life.

“I am about to tell you how to become the next king of Ironheart.”

White Destiny #7 (Rev 4)

All Silverflow masters were given a key to their respective “quarter” at the Academy. The city vowed to provide its masters with the best equipment, the finest materials and any financial assistance they desired to advance their study. And these quarters were the culmination of the city’s providence. Most masters would hole up in their quarters and make the most out of their one-week term. Though, a few masters chose to set up private workshops outside of the Academy for various reasons.

Leaving the greenhouse and entering the academy’s main building, Leo soon found himself at the workshop he had not entered for days. He gave the heavy steel door a push.

It was locked from the other side.

“Who is it?”

He heard the princess’s voice booming from inside.

“Leonardo de Price at your service, Your Highness,” he replied.

There was a moment of silence. He waited for the princess to open the door and let him in. But his anticipation was betrayed when he received another question from the princess.

“Have you found D’Amore?”

It was his turn to stay silent.

“You’re not Price, are you? Who are you really and what do you want?” the princess probed him again.

“It’s really me. I’m the one who made four thousands off your wet handkerchief.”

Another prolonged silence ensued.

“Kindly open this door, please,” he knocked on the door again.

Suddenly, a hand emerged from the wall to his right and grabbed his shoulder. He started and yanked the hand away. Next, a man’s head extruded from the polished granite surface. Its chalk white skin and hair were like that of a sculpture. The head turned a full circle about its disembodied neck and then fixed its blank, white eyes on Leo.

And then, the head retracted and disappeared into the wall. Four burly arms burst forth and grabbed Leo. Before he could comprehend what was going on, the arms pulled him into the wall. Their grip overwhelmed his resistance. At one fell swoop, he was sitting on the floor inside the alchemist’s quarter.

Before him were three red-helm knights, snickering. All three of them wore the same outfit; a chainmail on top and gambeson underneath. Scattered the premise were pieces of their plated armors. The chalk white head belonged to the shortest knight of the trio. It appeared he had put a flour-like powder on his face to make it white.

Near a distillery and by the princess in her skimpy sorceress robe was Katherine. The female knight only wore a gambeson and leather gauntlets. She nodded to greet when her brown eyes met Leo’s.

The princess did not take her eyes off the boiling flasks. She waited for the inventor to get back on his feet and get closer before she, as she would put it, “wasted her breath” on lowlifes like him. The knights nudged him towards the princess. They offered no real explanation on how they pulled him in through the wall.

No, there was no time. Her Highness expected his immediate attendance and she was not in the mood for pleasantry.

“Price, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t throw you off the cliff next to Solaris Observatory right now?”

“May I ask how is it going at the church?” he cut in, “It appears to me that you clerics are never happy with anything. Also, to answer that question—”

“It’s a rhetorical question, Price. Don’t answer it.”

“But mine isn’t.”

“The church is fine. We’re happy when people don’t involve our belongings in their sensual fantasies. Now, let’s talk about that frog…”

“Frog? Do you mean the person who bought your handkerchief or…?”

“I mean D’Amore and that toad too if you will. Where can I find them?”

“How come he’s a frog now?”

“Allow me to explain,” one of the knights stepped in.

A few moons ago, they got words that the count had been sighted at Brown’s Boulder. They raided the place and had him cornered in a room on second floor. When they stormed in, he was gone. There remained only traces of cloaking incense, half-burned spell scroll and a piece of copper frog token in a burner.

It was a popular set up for an invisible transformation ritual. All the ingredients necessary for the ritual; the incense, the scroll, and the animal token; were easy to buy and conceal.

“Crooks love this set up”, the princess elaborated, “This scroll transforms them into a small animal and this incense cloaks them from Visionary. The incense is expensive but a frog doesn’t need as much smoke as a man to go undetected.”

She planned on tracking him with a divination ritual called Visionary, three times a day, at random times every day, and send guards to spook him into staying a frog all the time.

“I don’t have time waiting for him to go broke and crawl out of whatever hell hole he’s in, notwithstanding. I want him arrested, now. If you know his whereabouts, speak up and I will reward you more than the sum you can get from selling my underwear.”

The knights and Leo chuckled.

“Fantastic humor, Your Highness, but I’m afraid I cannot appraise your truly exquisite and most intimate item unless you grace me a glimpse of it.”

“I shall permit this request of yours.”

She redid the knot about her waist that seemed to be the only thing holding her sorceress robe from falling apart into a simpler knot. Her soft and pure white hands, the hands of a noblewoman who had never known hardship, handed him one end of the string that would undo her attire in one tug. At this close distance, he could see the color of her flesh through the veil-thin white patches of this revealing outfit. He trusted the same could be said about the orange patches on her private parts but the color made it much harder to discern.

She smiled; a provocative smile.

The male knights faced away at Katherine’s shouting. The female knight watched them to make sure there would be no peeking.

“Wait, you don’t really…?”

“Go ahead. I don’t mind fulfilling your last wish.”

Emanating from these words was the cold of steel. She still smiled; a sinister smile. Her silver eyes looked at him the same way a cat looked at a mouse entering a jar of maple syrup.

The knights giggled. Katherine gave them a smack on the heads to stop them from giggling.

Leo let go of the string, stepped away from Lilia and humbly bowed before the princess.

“You honored me, Your Highness. But I would like to keep my feet on the ground and my name in the history book.”

“How cowardly you are then.”

She pitied him, tightening the knot of her robe to its proper form.

“You really look forward to throw somebody off that cliff, don’t you?”

“No, that privilege is for you only. Everyone deserves the utmost attention to the method with which they are disposed of. For example, D’Amore! I plan to—”

“—I’m not interested—” Leo tried to recuse himself from the details but the princess refused to stop until she finished the example.

“I plan to use a giant bubble of holy water. I’m going to drown that slimy scoundrel in a giant bubble of holy water. How fitting, don’t you think?”

It became apparent to him that this woman just wanted to murder somebody, anybody, to satisfy her sadistic desires. This quickly became one of those situations where, if he did not tread lightly, he could end up in the belly of the neighbor’s pet hydra instead of his own.

“May I remind you that execution without a fair trial is against the law?”

“It’s a rhetorical question. I told you not to answer rhetorical questions.”

There was no question, unless she was talking about the first thing she asked him after the knights spirited him in here.

“Pardon my forgetfulness, Your Highness.”

“You’re forgiven. Now, have you found D’Amore?”

“Pardon my forgetfulness again, Your Highness.”

“I said you’re forgiven—”

“You misunderstood me. I have nothing to report today. There are too many things going on at once, I forgot about your request.”

“You forgot!?”

Her scolding resounded in his ears and bounced back and forth between the walls of his skull.

“You forgot to look for D’Amore but you didn’t forget to sell my handkerchief?”

“That was a joke—”

“Which was?”

“I didn’t have your handkerchief. You burned it already. Look, I promise to make him a priority as soon as granny lets me off the hook.”

And it was at this point in the conversation that he was reminded how there were not two but three pet hydras in his life these days. If he could turn into a frog to escape these fanatics, he would.

Then again, frogs cannot fly and he would still go squashed at the foot of that cliff.

White Destiny #6 (Rev 4)

It was moon twelve when Leo returned to the Academy. Once again, the only person who ever bothered to make an appointment to meet him was the bishop.

Father Felacia was displeased.

More than half of the plants he and the agriculturist planted the other moon had withered. Dead plants had to be dug out and replaced with new ones. They could then be left to dry in the wind and turned into hays.

The bishop could not see the point but Leo could.

Hays were scarce even when the barns were empty. The horses and oxen of caravans that passed by the city consumed hays. The roofs and flooring of poorer homes were still made of hays. And if selling was not his thing, the bishop could still make bed rolls, winter hats and winter coats for the homeless who sought refuge in the church.

If the brittle corpse of a frozen rat was of any indication, winter this year had been most cruel on all kinds. As such, demand for insulators like straw bale was at all-time high. There were all sorts of uses for hays and the listing only stopped when Father Felacia frowned upon “make-shift burial shroud” idea.

But the point stood. As little of a demand for animal feed, there was a demand for hays. As long as demand exceeded supply, there would be scarcity. Where there was scarcity, there would be profit.

Under the glass roof and oil lanterns of the greenhouse, the agriculturist and the bishop had started grafting the first batch of Midnight Virgin from the seeds they got.

For the first attempt, they planted the seeds and grafted the sprouts onto a variety of host plants. It had been five moons since and not a single one of the shoots grew into a full stem. The hosts were killed as well.

“Rotten to the core…Inventor, your seeds are demon hell spawns. Rotten to the core! Rotten to the core!” grumbled the old agriculturist as she crushed a seed between her nails.

Granny Annabel was the grumpiest woman in Ironheart. Perhaps she was so grumpy, neither Death nor a gentleman would take her away. Like the wines brewed from her harvests, she aged well with time. She still walked upright and tilled the land herself. Her body had gotten shaky, though, and she could not scoop up fragile sprouts herself.

That was why she had Father Felacia help her in the garden. With a brass trowel in hand, the bishop dug into a rectangular tray of dirt and carried Midnight Virgin sprouts over to their new home. In front of him was a walled garden of exotic plants, behind him, some more stacks of the same wooden trays.

Grafting frozen stems was no more than a shot in the dark. Therefore, the agriculturist decided to leave them alone for the time being. According to Annabel, the idea of growing more stems by grafting a stem is ludicrous. It was especially true for herbs as she explained.

“They die after flowering, you idiot. Grafting a stem is the same as praying for a split and harvest the stems before they flower and die. And that you froze them didn’t help”.

In the second attempt, she would replant half of the sprouts and graft the other half onto other herbs. She had plenty of “champion” breeds—those that could survive the most blighted farms in Ironheart—but she would run out of Midnight Virgin sprouts soon.

For this next batch, she had ordered a wagon of soil from the fertile lands in Merlock at her own expenses. Water used in irrigation was alchemically treated until they glittered in minerals. She had gone as far as having a priest bless each and every plant in the garden every moon already, might as well go all-out hereon, so she said.

And that blessing part left Father Felacia exhausted every moon while that water part would take up most of Leo’s day every other moon.

But she made those seeds sprouted outside of the Dark Forest and that in itself is a remarkable feat.

“You can try grafting a stem anyways. A chance is a chance. You still get back the stem in the worst case scenario so it doesn’t hurt going for double.”

Annabel hissed. “I’m not doing it. You do it”, she snapped at him.

Leo shrugged. If it was the case, he would just make potions out of the stems. He turned on his heel and headed to the nearest exit.

“Where are you going? You are supposed to treat the water. This is your problem I’m solving, don’t you forget that!”

What an annoying woman.

“I’m getting reagents and tools,” he said.

“Use the alchemist’s quarter next door.”

“I don’t have the key, granny. I’m not the alchemist this week.”

Granny Annabel snorted. Posing a sneer, she informed:

“Son, I know losers don’t get a key. But frets not, Lilia is in there. Ask her to let you in.”

White Destiny #5 (Rev 4)

CHAPTER 2: THE FROG CAN’T FLY;

A few buildings down the same flint pavement of Steve’s forge situated a bakery famous for the cheapest white bread in town. This would be his last stop before he returned to the workshop beyond the city’s wall.

He and Steve had planned to visit Brown’s Boulder tavern this moon. Sir Richard went there every seventh moon and so did the majority of the masters. It would be just like another Silverflow council meeting, but better. There would be no prick cleric to watch their every move. There would be the common people, constituents from every district in Ironheart instead.

But for this moon, Steve was tied up in the aftermath of his awkward confession and Leo had his hands full with a seven-hundred-thousand-pris burden. The tavern would be less rowdy without them but it had to be done. The witch needed to get out of town before curfew. Ain’t anybody had spare money for a pet hydra to stay in town.

Ins and outs of the city had been tightened. It was unclear how but the church had informed the city guards that the witch had sneaked into Ironheart. Every mercenary, knight and soldier in town had their eyes peeled for the witch. They asked women on the street to remove their veil and answer questions; ones that the witch simply lied through her teeth.

She changed her disguise to that of an elderly woman nibbling a piece of bread. As they were exiting the southern gate, she lined up two persons behind the inventor. Leo got past the checkpoint without much hassle but Eliot was pulled to the side for questioning.

At long last, she emerged from the crowd trickling out from the partially opened gates. Out of sight of the guard towers, she assumed a younger appearance and donned a signature dark purple cloak on top of her frilly black robe. She liked frills, apparently, and she had them on her outfit in all forms.

There was a broom in her hat. She called it “Stardust” and she claimed it flew faster than the fastest lightning ray.

Nobody had seen these flying fish alive before. Leo remembered overhearing the naturalist and the mythologist bickered about these mysterious creatures. If memory served him well, the naturalist won the debate with a sample of dead lightning rays fused into a dragon scale. These rays, to dragons, were like flies to cows.

Or, like the witch to him.

For the time being, Eliot hovered slowly at the inventor’s eyes level, keeping in pace with his long strides. His body felt light thanked to a spell she casted.

When the city guards pulled her in for interrogation, they sent a priest to face her. She was forced to answer questions inside an Oath of Providence ritual. The all-seeing eye punished those who dared slip a lie in front of the Lord. Those who lied under the Oath would be cursed forever.

“What kind of curse?” he asked.

“Who knows? They didn’t say which one.”

From the look of it, she must have run into the local church’s deacon—Father Graham. He was the weakest but also the most zealous of the three mages in the church. Had it been the princess or the bishop, Eliot would have called them out in her recount already.

“Straight to the point, they asked if I was the witch.”

“And what did you tell them?”

“I beat up the priest with my half eaten bread, and I said to them: “My children died in her hands. Children! All my sons and daughters!—”

No matter how funny she made the situation out to be, a glimpse of her past always left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth. There, he saw her lips trembled again. A brief, mournful speechlessness before she yelled aloud:

“—Every-single-one-of-them—”

But she shed no tears. Her tears dried up long ago. And instead, she laughed, at the cruel hand of fate, at the irony of the exchange, and, she laughed at herself. Then it all stopped. Damming silence befell. She let the despair seeped in.

“—And here you morons asked me if I was the witch!?”

The illusion of an enraged old woman faded away. The young, indifferent Eliot took the stage for the curtain bow.

“And so I said. After that, they let me go.”

Standing upright on a broom in mid-air, she wrapped up the recap in nonchalance. Then she sat down. With her legs crossed and dangled in front of him, she pushed the inventor from a mere glimpse to a deep dive into her grim history.

There was not a single ending for her children. Her love for them—no, she amended—her interest in them had been decided in their conception.

A few of her descendants were the results of unwilling unions; “chanced encounters” in alleyways involving bizarre and confusing circumstances. These offspring, she got rid of after birth, sold to the highest bidders in West Rufus.

All of her offspring carried potent magical blood and hence even dead ones fetched a high price on the black market. “They are more profitable than the lion’s heart of a dying warrior, and their number does not decrease over time,” she revealed.

Leo recused himself from the details of her infants and a human heart’s pricing.

“But ugh…child birth…a pain as always…”

She cringed, expressing how inconvenient and risky the process was. Without a spouse, she could not invite a midwife. And without anyone to support in labor, almost all offspring born this way perished within the first hour.

“Those difficult times…I can only rely on Stardust to set off a Major Salubrious before I too die.”

She gently stroked the broom, “I’m very proud of her,” she said.

Leo wanted to throw up.

The origin of the infants she sold in West Rufus made them all the more disturbing. Good Lord! He had not told Princess Lilia about the infants. She would have rained sacred fires and doused the district in holy water for seven days. And even then, he doubted that could wash away the heresy Eliot had committed.

Nevertheless, behind these cruel and inhumane decisions laid a rationale he could not dismiss. He recognized the rationale. It was the same ideology he and other masters of Silverflow embraced. It was the idea that everything could be quantified in terms of gain, loss, and risk. That everything, including human lives, was quantifiable.

Eliot’s story did not end there. At times, she had fallen in love and had children with men who might or might not be aware of her true identity. She loved the ones from genuine romance the best as they were allowed to love her for who she was.

But o cruel hands of fate ever so twisted, none of these children was born immortal as she was. All of them, including the ones she had with the archbishop—the only other ancient in Ashlora—eventually aged and faded from memories.

Of her most beloved children, few lived on in legends as kings and queens. Fewer settled for a humble life. Most wound up dead, seeking riches and glories that matched the power they inherited.

For all those ever come out of her womb, truly, every-single-one-of-them, and regardless of who they became, she would always be there in the final moments. She would hold their fleeting souls in her tender hands and bid them farewell.

There were too many conflicting emotions in the ending for Leo to take in. So many that this ending whisked away any impression he would have had of her conscience, her rationale, and her marriage to the man who became her worst enemy.

“I’m sorry…” was all he could muster.

“Then I looted their corpses, in case there was anything valuable I could take. As you can see, they are profits one way or another.”

“I take that back. You’re a monster.”

White Destiny #4 (Rev 4)

Sometime after the council meeting, Leo found himself occupying the carpentry table at Steve’s.

In the air was the sizzling of blue steel in white water, the crackles of red flame on dark charcoals, and the rumble of hammer hoisted above the chestnut hair on black anvil. The building was crazy hot. Wood splinters dug themselves into his back. Yet, when he was dead-exhausted, they were surprisingly pleasant.

Next to him was a pig-tailed, red-head knight in full ironclad. She sat on the ground, one leg upright and the other rested on the hay floor. A large circular shield laid upside-down on her left. A sheathed sword she kept between her legs. Both her hands rested on its cross-guard.

The name was Katherine. Her hobby was crushing rocks and manhood. She came to pick up the gauntlets the master of Ironsmith promised. But, to her dismay, Steve was never one to work with a schedule. And so, there she sat, in the heat, glaring daggers at the forgetful new master.

Leo did not know Katherine well enough to strike a more personal conversation. She was not allowed to comment on the princess’s private matter but she could discuss her opinion on Count D’Amore.

The man was a molester. He would definitely go for the princess if he was given the chance. Katherine hated him. He treated women as trophies. The harder to get, the more valuable they were. The main problem was the princess. Lilia learned all about rulings from the baron…

Katherine cut short her exposition there. She realized she would be infringing the princess’s privacy if she continued.

So she turned to a different story about the time Alex declared he would never make an advance on her. She was too muscular, he said, and sleeping with muscular women felt like sleeping with another man. She had mixed feelings about his declaration. On one hand, she was glad he would not try to get into her pants. On the other hand, she was still a woman and she wanted to be treated as one.

Leo could argue that second point. Nothing good would come out of being treated as a trophy or a mindless, vicious pet hydra. But, to each his own, he supposed.

At one point during the conversation, the constant rumbling of Steve’s hammer came to an abrupt end. A thud erupted as the hammer fell followed by a soft voice calling “Inventor”.

Leo darted his glance at the ironsmith.

Steve lifted his head and slowly swayed to the door. Then, he froze. His hands trembled.

The forge’s wooden door creaked into closing behind a young woman. Her voice was familiar even though her appearance was foreign.

In a light blue blouse so spotless it seemed unreal, frills around the sleeves and smooth, waist-length hair; the noblewoman eyed Steve as she entered. Atop her head sported a brimless felt cap with a vibrant blue feather pinned to the side. Politely, she took off the hat and nodded to greet the forge’s owner.

Then, she walked past him. Her amber eyes drifted towards Leo. She came closer. Their eyes met. It was the most sorrowful gaze among the myriad he had encountered. And this unmistakable melancholy provided the last clue.

She was the witch; the saddest being in Ashlora.

Her warm breath, and cold, slender fingers touched his skin at the same time. Reclining her head to the right, her tender hand reached behind his neck.

“It’s me, the lover you need but never deserves. Why didn’t you come back to our love nest?” she said as her face was a palm-length away from his.

“Dear the pet hydra I don’t need, didn’t I tell you not to rummage my stuffs?”

He lifted the felt cap from her head.

“Please stop. What do you want now?”

Eliot hissed, averted her eyes and distanced from him.

“You’re no fun. I’m hungry,” she said.

“Feed yourself! I can’t take care of you forever.”

She leaned towards Steve who was standing agape behind a black anvil.

“He doesn’t want me. Do you want me?” she asked.

Amidst the steam and ember, the inventor caught glimpse of the ironsmith’s weakest moment yet. The man of fire and steel flustered when suddenly confronted by Eliot. She caught him staring at her in scrutinizing silence. His eyes were fixating on her every movement; almost as though wanting to eat her alive.

Turning to look at her own reflection in a polished armor on one of many racks lining along the grey brick wall, she followed up:

“Is there something on my face?”

“Nothing, miss—”

“Eliot,” she introduced.

“—Miss Eliot. The name is Steve, just Steve.”

“See, you’re interested, aren’t you?”

“I’m sorry to say this, but you’re not my type.”

“You’re lying. I can feel your lustful eyes all over my body. Now, now, don’t be shy…”

“He was making sure you wouldn’t steal anything,” Leo sighed.

“You’re out of luck”, the knight said, “There’s no use courting a Silverflow master. They are married, to their studies that is. Look at the agriculturist, eighty years of age and a virgin to boot.”

“Don’t lump me with them,” Steve pointed his red hot tongs at Leo, “She’s just not my type, that’s all”.

“Then, what is your type?” Eliot asked.

“Strong, eh, who is not too easygoing and who can take care of herself. Right, like Katherine here,” he said.

Leo could not tell which was redder: the knight’s face, or the tongs that were being pointed at her. A moment later, the ironsmith tried to retract what he had just blurted out.

No use. Spoken words could not be unheard. Written words could not be unseen. And the only thing Leo could do was tapping his knuckle on the carpentry table, raising his hand and proclaiming:

“I approve”.