Long ago, a Necromancer had nearly conquered the entire known world. His name had been Gix, and it had taken the Council Of Nine – five of the Little Gods and Four Dragons – working with the nations of Men, the Sylvani Diaspora, and the hidden realms of the Underfolk. It had been, for centuries, the greatest calamity the world had ever faced, on par with the collapse of the Cardomethi empire. Kingdoms burned. Entire towns were slaughtered to the last man, woman, and child, only to be raised again in Gix’s service.
Tythel knew the stories well – Karjon had been one of the Council members, and she’d been fascinated to hear his tales of the war. He’d glossed over the horrors in her youth, focusing instead on the valor an the heroic sacrifices. As she’d aged enough to understand, he’d told her the rest. The Fall of Nehilom, where Gix had first deployed a spell that allowed his zombies to spread reanimation to corpses they had bitten, where fathers were devoured by their children and children by their parents. The rise of the Abyssals, and how that knightly order had been vital to winning the war as he had told her, but how they had committed countless atrocities in the name of victory.
And, of course, the betrayal of the Last Prince.
His name had been forbidden to be spoken or written for so longer, only members of the Nine still knew it. Lathariel was the last surviving member of the nine, even though she slumbered in a coma. Since Karjon had not passed the name to Tythel, unless Haradeth had been told the name by Lathariel, it was a name that was currently lost to the world. Only if Lathariel awoke was there any chance of it being preserved.
The academic in Tythel hoped it would be remembered, so it could be added to genealogy trees. The warrior in Tythel wanted it to remain forgotten.
The Last Prince had waited until a pivotal battle. A moment where it looked like the mortal races and the Council of Nine would emerge victorious. In that moment, he had revealed his true allegiance. He had taken his knights in on their charge, as he was supposed to – but when they struck, it was not Gix’s hoard that they slew, but their own allies. Because of his action, the war with Gix waged on a decade longer than was needed. Karjon personally oversaw his trial, and personally incinerated him when the guilty verdict came down. The Last Prince only had one defense – “I sought to preserve some life in the face of death.”
For that statement, his legions became remembered as the Death Knights, and the Cidatel that had housed them was Death’s Head Keep. The name was not just a reminder of what evil had been done here, but also descriptive – the gateway to the keep was a stylized skull.
“You know,” Tythel said to Eupheme as the road to the drawbridge beneath the looming stone skull, after boring her throughout the entire ride with the full tale of the war and the Last Prince’s betrayal, “In hindsight, the kind of person who designed a keep with a skull for a door being a traitor in a war against a necromancer probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.”
Eupheme snorted. “When you put it that way…’
“Thank you, by the way,” Tythel said. Eupheme raised her eyebrow. “When I get going on history like that, I know how boring it gets. I appreciate you humoring me.”
“Tythel, you’re my friend. Dolt. We’ve covered that before. Do I care about the intricacies of Cardomethi politics during the collapse, or the broken supply chains that made it so hard to fight Gix in the early days of the war? Normally, no. But when you’re talking about them, you get so excited that I care because you do. So you weren’t boring me.”
Tythel flushed, glad her scales didn’t betray that anymore, and smiled for Eupheme’s benefit. The expression was becoming more natural, although she felt herself habitually still squinting when she did it. “Well, thank you for seeing it that way.”
“Next time just do me a favor and stick to the battles more? That’s the best part.” Eupheme’s eyes sparkled with the gentle prod.
“I’ll do my best. But would they be as good if you didn’t have all the context so you knew exactly what was at stake?”
Eupheme considered for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, I would. Battles are inherently interesting, even without context.”
“I’ll test that theory at some point,” Tythel said. They’d reached the main door.
“Halt!” came a voice from above. “Who goes there!”
“The Princess Tythel!” Eupheme responded. “Who dares bar her passage?”
“No one!” This time the voice was just a shade higher. “Just need to confirm its her, that’s all.”
“The poor man’s just doing his job,” Tythel said in a quiet voice, then raised it. “The Horn is Raised at Midnight,” Tythel shouted.
“And the Rabbit Calls its Warren A Fortress,” Eupheme added.
“Welcome, Princess Tythel!” the man atop said, and the door began to grind open. “Do you need someone to take your steeds?”
“Light and Shadow, yes!” Tythel said. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared, mainly because she and Eupheme had set a fairly sedate pace, but after so many days in the saddle Tythel was ready to never be in one again.
Their horses taken by the stableboys – Tythel did give hers another apple before he was taken, so he’d remember her fondly and hopefully tolerate her if she needed to awkwardly sit on his back again, Tythel and Eupheme headed into the main entrance way.
“Armin!” Tythel shouted when she saw the lumcaster, fighting a very undecorous urge to tackle him with a huge. “Deepest Shadow, man, it’s good to see you again!”
Armin’s eyes widened when he saw her, and there was a moment of hesitation. Then he smiled. Something about his smile seemed off to Tythel. There was a note to it she’d never seen before. Was that an excited smile? Or a relieved one? It didn’t quite fit either of those, but she couldn’t place it. “Likewise! I’m so glad you made it back all right. Although…I’m sorry to hear about Tellias.”
Ah. That explained the smile. He had heard the news, clearly, but had been hoping for there to have been some error. “I hold hope, still,” Tythel murmured. “He does not yet rest in the Shadow’s Embrace.”
“Of course,” Armin said. “Heartflame, I’m certain.”
There was a edge to his words Tythel couldn’t place, but she was able to easily deduce it was because he didn’t want to break her hope. “You would be correct. I cannot yet wield that power, however.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out at the exact right moment for your needs. You’ve got the Light on your side, there.”
“Thank you,” Tythel said, unsure why Eupheme was starting to look angry. Oh, of course. She was being rude and dominating the conversation. “I’m going to go find Ossman, let you and Eupheme catch up.”
“Actually, not yet.” The voice came from behind Tythel. She’d heard the footsteps coming, but hadn’t paid them much mind. Duke de’Monchy. “Your timing is fortuitous, Tythel. We have much to discuss. Armin finished his decryption just two days hence. We were about to give up on waiting for you to arrive.”
Tythel looked at Armin with wide eyes. “Did it…”
Armin nodded, and his smile lost some of the edge. “I know now. I know what the Vacuity Engine is, and I know where we can find it. And I know why we absolutely must destroy it.”