The Dark Queen
The Climb seemed interminable.... Hours of the most difficult mountain face now lay behind the assassin. And there! Across a labyrinthine valley stood his goal. Footpaths wound their way between sharp, jagged outcroppings of blackest onyx, and from within the vale, the sounds of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of the Dark Queen's soldiers. He would need all his skill of stealth to breach that horde and get to 'HER' castle. The sun was still in the sky giving him time to rest, eat, and regain his strength. He welcomed it. Tonight would be another challenge.
For nearly two decades the war had gone on. The armies of the Dark Queen spread over the free lands as locusts in a ripe field. Devouring everything in their path and leaving behind only waste land. This was the fifteenth time the Dark Queen had unleashed her evil upon the land. No one could remember a time when she wasn't a threat, none knew how old she really was or how she was even still be alive after all these centuries; but she was. Some believed she slept in some magical cocoon between her raidings... some thought she somehow migrated from body to body, taking a new host each time she woke; but however she managed it, everyone agreed that there was copious amounts of magic involved.
This time she nearly conquered the entire realm of free peoples. The various Lords finally allied, just in time to force her back into her valley of shadows. The devastation was unimaginable.... lush farmlands wasted and unusable for generations; forests razed and burnt for no reason other than wanton destruction; lakes and streams devoid of life, polluted and murky, a putrid stench of death wafting from them.
He had seen the sad loss, the tens of thousands dead, crows picking at the corpses. The unmistakable scent of decay everywhere, inescapable. Many of the dead bore the marks of having been feasted upon by the soldiers, while livestock was slaughtered and left to rot. The land would need much time to heal, to cleanse itself, before it could support new inhabitants. And therein lay the problem...
Although the Queen's armies were now in retreat, they were retreating to here. And once they were within the Queen's domain, she would seal up the single road into her valley; an impenetrable wall surrounding her fortress, where she would be free to slumber and rebuild her forces. The next time she attacked, there would be little stopping her from achieving her goal, enslavement of every living soul.
That was why he was here, now... He had to get in and end this, once and for all; before the gates were shut. And her armies were only two days behind him.
Enter Her Majestic Highness
Atop a spire of blackest onyx, in a chamber strewn with magical glyphs inlaid of gold and silver, a most beautiful creature stormed about in frustration. Flame red hair whipped about as she turned , striding across the gleaming floor. Her heels click clacking as she went. Large eyes of emerald green, fair skin with just a smattering of freckles, full pouty lips, petite features over all, and a body that would make any man drool with desire. Yet this beauty was marred by the angry scowl on her face, and the hate that dripped like venom from her tongue.
She knew that to finally achieve her goal, she would have to beg the lords below for a boon, again. She also knew what price they might exact for granting her request. She remembered with dread that spear that served as Hades appendage, bony ridges along its length, and how painful it was to be penetrated.
He used her mightily, until tears ran in a cascade down her face, not just once or twice, but for a seeming eternity. Every orifice was bloody and raw by the time he was satisfied. Even he did not know the cause for the depth of her malice, her ire had gone on for so long that, it is doubtful that even she truly recalls why it was so imperative to enslave an entire world. Perhaps it was all that was left of the girl that came to be so many centuries ago.
She knew what the price would be, and with years pouring over ancient tomes, she had found an escape clause. She would trade places with one from another realm, temporarily, and let them pay the price for her favor from hell. Her body would remain, but her essence, her memories, her magic... All would travel to the other realm and the poor soul who stood in her place they would experience the devastation of Hades. But the damn fools in the silver smithy made the charm wrong..AGAIN! She would have his head on a platter if she didn't still need his skills....Such was her ire.
Delays delays delays!!!!! Perhaps she could motivate him just a bit to pay more attention to the details.
Hot furnace, Cold hammer
Even down here beneath the castle he could hear the raging of the Queen. Painfully aware that if he ever completed the task set before him, his life would be over. He studied the designs once more, hoping there was some way to exploit the charm, something she wouldn't notice until too late.
A ruckus in the hallway outside his cell roused him from his contemplation. The door burst open and a seeming horde of guards poured in, followed by the queen dragging his two children. The evil one waded through her guards bringing the children closer to him. He smiled wanly, this being the first time in months he had seen them, but knowing there was no love or mercy behind the Queen's eyes. She stopped, moving the children to her fore, and a hand on the shoulder of each child. Stating simply, "Pick one".
His son and daughter stood there, confused, looking to him to make sense of all this. He could only stand in shock, not knowing the Queen's intent, but knowing it was nothing good. He raised his hands at his sides, not choosing, but admitting defeat, hoping that she would spare his little ones. But no, the Queen was having none of that. In the flash of a twinkling, she pulled a knife from someplace and slashed the boys throat, leaving him gagging on his own blood as it rushed out from the wound. In moments he was gone.
The queen half turned to go, tossed the faulty charm to the smith and said simply, "Fix this, or perhaps you'd prefer a repeat performance?", clearly meaning that his daughter was to be the next sacrifice for any failure on his part.
Then she left, half carrying half dragging the sobbing girl back to where ever she was kept.... the guards left and the door slammed shut. The sound of the bolt sliding home reminding him of his true status here.
It was then the answer he had been searching for came to him. Completing the charm properly was sure to cost him his life, but he couldn't bear the thought of losing his last child. With just a hint of a real smile, he grabbed the wax and began carving the negative for the mold which would cast the charm......
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