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All is Fair in Love and War

22 B.E., the Sorcerer City of Notarikon 

His duties in that room were over. That’s why he left.

That said, he still had work to do. Back then, all he had to do was discuss the political future of the Sorcerer City of Notarikon, but now he had to fulfill his other duty as the Supreme Councilor of the Archmage Council – in other words, as their leader. This included tedious meetings such as this.

The meeting itself did not take place in the usual abode. This time, it had taken place in one of the Harbormaster’s buildings overlooking the Sorcerer City’s harbor and shipyards. In fact, that construction project took over an entire line of docks over five hundred meters long. The logistics and astronomical cost of this project nearly depleted Notarikon’s national income.

That project is Temple Nimbus, the Sorcerer City’s flying fortress, or at least a part of it. Temple Nimbus’ upper half, the ‘city’, had already been finished a year before and is currently undergoing intense stress-testing. Meanwhile, the construction of its lower half had only just begun. Temple Nimbus was meant to enforce the Sorcerer City’s sovereignty and neutral stance in the matters of the world, but even that may change, hence the meeting that took place earlier.

That, and the project’s astronomical cost and lengthy construction time. Only two people in the Sorcerer City knows exactly when the lower half would be finished, and Kalinor is about to meet one of them.

A great, ebony door separated him from his guest. He placed his hand on the door, and realized that it was vigorously shaking. It wasn’t fear, since there is nothing to fear about that guest. Rather, it was fatigue. All these duties and demands shouldered by him piled up, and left him with hardly any free time.

Even an elf needs a break every once in a while. He had been working for three days straight.

He opened the door, and then his attention was drawn to the woman sitting on the sofa to his right.

Her long, snow-white hair glinted underneath the rays of afternoon sunlight that managed to slip its way through the gaps between the curtains. Her sapphire-blue eyes were scanning the contents of a book, ‘The Nature of Divine Magic’, and is apparently so absorbed or entranced by that book that she had not noticed him entering the room.

Although she looked youthful, barely twenty-five, her age did not correspond to her appearance at all. Ever since he had become the Supreme Councilor of the Council of Archmages — its First Seat — the girl’s looks had not changed at all.

Like him, she had no age. Unlike him, she isn’t an elf, but a human. A Deathless. One of the only remaining Deathless left in Elatreus. She came to Notarikon around 20 years ago, and her remarkable skill, knowledge, and talent in magic had caused the Council to quickly promote her to the 11th Seat of the Archmage Council, in charge of Notarikon’s Special Projects Division. Which functionally puts her in charge of Temple Nimbus’ construction.

However, the person who first came up with Temple Nimbus’ design and now became its architect isn’t present. Enrique Elkano was too busy working on Temple Nimbus’ unfinished lower half. Kalinor had to meet her instead.

She was in Mythbury when he called her, apparently tending to the Paragon who was injured in battle since last year.

Beside the woman was a 7-foot tall Sentinel with the death-mask of an unknown man as its face. It held a halberd in his left hand that was even taller than it, nearly scraping the ceiling. Its dark grey armor was similarly embellished with many beautiful, hand-carved engravings and runes which would not be out of place in a King’s royal armor. It was the first to speak.

“Lady Kira. Lord Kalinor has arrived.” Its mechanical voice reverberated within the room.

“Thank you, Gunther.” Her reply came as closed the book and placed it in a dragon-scale bag to her right. She clumsily rose from the sofa, and shook Kalinor’s hand. That was when he noticed that her movements were somewhat forced and errant, as if she was in pain and couldn’t move her limbs in certain directions.

“Are you allright, Kira?” The concern in Kalinor’s voice was apparent. He had heard rumors from the Aleutian Empire’s frontlines. Rumors that Kira had somehow defeated the Deathknight, bearer of the Brand of the Fallen, a being of pure evil that cannot be defeated by anyone who did not wield the Brand’s counterpart, the Flame of the Host.

Were the rumors true? Did she break another prophecy?

“If I may, I’d like to remain seated as we talk.”

“You don’t need my permission, Kira.”

“Hahaha, of course I do, I’m not an Archmage anymore, remember?”

His smile was forced, but her words ring true. Four years ago the Paragon, bearer of the Flame of the Host, sought her help by coming here to the Sorcerer City. Notarikon maintains and protects its neutrality in matters of the world, which meant that they could not and would not provide any sort of assistance to any other nation in Elatreus.

By extension, this meant that an Archmage such as her could not assist the Paragon in any meaningful way. And yet, for reasons unknown, Kalinor had found a letter of resignation written by her left in his office while she was nowhere to be found. Having completed all her duties and choosing a suitable replacement from the next Archmage candidate to replace her, Kira had left the Sorcerer City to wage war against the Thanes.

Since then, the person in front of him is no more than a commoner.

“Well, that’s exactly why I invited you here.” Kalinor grabbed another chair and positioned it across the table in front of her, making sure that they were face-to-face with each other, and continued;

“The Council of Archmages were discussing the political future of Notarikon. After some time, we called for a vote and made our decision.”

“Which is?”

“That the Sorcerer City of Notarikon will no longer be maintaining its neutrality.”

Kira’s eyebrow shot up at a dangerous angle. What manner of development had caused this decision to take place? Notarikon had maintained its neutrality for centuries, and abandoning its stance seems unthinkable, especially to her. In fact, she thought that many of the other Archmages shared her sentiment.

“Why is that? What happened?”

“A lot of things happened, Kira. The Council had constantly kept track on the developments of the war. Frankly, we are afraid. Very afraid.  Soon after you left, we lost contact with the Great Library of Ankarath, the only other library that can compete with our own Grand Archives. Many great arcane tomes containing countless forbidden and extremely powerful spells were kept there, and we decided to send spies to see exactly what is happening inside Ankarath’s walls.”

“And then?”

Shit happened. Our spies managed to obtain some useful information. The Thanish Armies were massacring the city’s populace in order to complete some sort of ritual. They’ve also taken the Head Librarian, Umr At-Tawil, as a hostage for reasons unknown.

That was the last we heard of the spies.

Days later, a dark, undead wraith-cloud materialized in the skies above us and spat out the mangled and tortured bodies of the spies just outside the Spire’s courtyard. The cloud then declared that after Silverleaf was destroyed, Notarikon would be next.”

Kira furrowed her eyebrows. This was worse than she had expected.

“Afterwards, the Council called for an emergency meeting. We surmised that it would only be a matter of time before Silverleaf would fall, even if we took the Paragon’s involvement into our estimations. The Deathknight’s army number in the hundreds of thousands, and to make things more difficult any soldier slain in battle would only increase their numbers as they are raised by the Brand’s necromantic magic as undead soldiers.”

“I noticed.” Kira had personally encountered these undead soldiers in battle. The Deathknight uses them as fodder, to bear the brunt of the enemy attack as his own living soldiers strike from another angle, often without meaningful opposition, and overwhelm their enemies. Sometimes they would even spread disease and infection, killing even more.

“Notarikon cannot commit to a war of attrition. If we had forty thousand more Sentinels then perhaps we would dare maintain our neutrality. We do not.

And then last year, the Deathknight summoned that monstrous Golgoloth using a ritual he obtained from the Great Library. It was only the Red Wyrm that managed to stop it. Notarikon’s Grand Archives contained deadlier spells than that. Over-Tier spells developed during the War in Heaven that can end entire civilizations or even destroy divine beings.

We cannot afford to let the Deathknight have these spells. If he does, then Elatreus is already destroyed.

Which is exactly why we came to this decision. We are no longer interested in maintaining our neutrality.

We have decided to ally ourselves with the Aleutian Empire.”

Oh no. Those two word echoes in the back of Kira’s mind. She did not like where this conversation is heading.

“Truth be told, your unsanctioned alliance with the Paragon and the Aleutian Empire worked in our favor. The Empire’s officials hold us in high regard, thanks to you. In fact, we never told them that you had resigned, so you remain the holder of the 11th Seat of the Council of Archmages.”

Cold sweat trailed down the back of Kira’s neck. His next words are all but certain;

“You are in an absolutely perfect position to solidify our alliance, Kira. We hope you would marry the future ruler of the Aleutian Empire, the Paragon.”

Kira’s head drooped down as if her soul was plucked clean from her body at the mention of those words. Flames of anger and confusion simmered in her heart. One questioned echoed and clawed at the back of her mind.

“You made this decision without my input?!” Her furious tone nearly caused Kalinor to jump off his seat. He had never seen her this angry.

“Heavens, no! That was the reason why we invited you. We wanted to hear your input!”

Kira sighed. His answer had smothered her anger and calmed her down. That was when the pain sets in. Her injuries in the battle against the Deathknight had not fully healed. Droplets of cold sweat formed in her hair.

She leaned back against the sofa, letting the pain fade away as she gathered her thoughts. Finally, she spoke.

“Kalinor, would the Aleutian Empire be ready to have an Empress who couldn’t bear an heir?”

Kalinor’s face twisted upon hearing her question. That same question had implied that she was infertile; effectively a curse for women in the eyes of most of Elatreus.

“By the Allfather, I am sorry, Kira. I didn’t know.”

“Truth be told, I’m not entirely opposed to the idea…” Kira sighed. Kalinor noticed that her body language began to change; she was squirming, as if uncomfortable, and avoided eye contact with him. And-

Is she blushing??

“But my condition has to be taken into consideration. I can’t quite imagine the Aleutian Empire would last long without an heir, nor can I imagine them having two empresses, one being immortal and another mortal. How would that affect their internal politics? Would their citizens and their nobles welcome an empress that wouldn’t die, alongside an emperor who might as well be her step-sons, grandsons and nieces?”

Her questions are all true. In fact, he felt stupid for not even taking this into consideration. He had overlooked this possibility, and needed to discuss this with the other Archmages and the Aleutian Diplomats. Thankfully, he could call for Kira’s help in explaining her situation in front of everyone.

This could only be better if the Paragon were to join the meeting as well.

“I will have to discuss this with the Archmages. However, I wanted to know; how is the Paragon? How is he like?”

That question came out of nowhere, and sounded like he was bluntly asking it in order to change the subject. Not the behavior of a nobleman.

“Flawed.”

“Pardon me?” Confusion couldn’t even begin to describe Kalinor’s reaction upon hearing her curt answer. A single word.

“As I said, Flawed,” Kira repeated herself, putting an extreme amount of emphasis to the word that she had never used to describe anyone else.

“I suppose a saga regarding the man is currently being written back in Aleutia. Let me guess; they depict him as flawless?”

“Indubitably. In times of crisis such as this, the people need someone to rely on. Someone they can rest their hopes and dreams on. Someone to rally their faith.” Kalinor’s answer came from his heart.

A hearty laugh filled the room, before Kira clenched her teeth and cradled her ribs once more.

“They will make him a god.”

“You don’t know that!”

“Want to bet?”

“Look, I know you hate the gods, but it’s not our place to judge whether or not the Paragon should or should not gain divinity,” Kira’s steady jabs towards Kalinor’s faith is beginning to wound him. “It’s not our right. Only the Gods can ascend a mortal to divinity.”

“He isn’t ready. He will never be.”

“Kira, what makes you say that?! The gods chose him for a reason!

No one is ready for divinity. Not even the Gods themselves.” She answered his rethorical question, a smile of serene contempt upon her lips.

The conversation grinded to a halt. Kalinor’s faith in the Gods have always been strained every single time Kira’s tongue slipped towards theology. A lesser man would’ve fallen to anger, yet Kalinor still clings onto patience. Even if he was an elf, doing so requires herculean effort.

Although it was never easy to deal with Kira’s rampant anti-theism, he must admit that she most definitely has her reasons, all of them compelling. Her kind, the Deathless, had been hunted down to near-extinction by the Church of the Allfather thanks to the action of Domas Rahm, the First Heretic. A thousand years went by before the genocide was called off. Since then, the number of Deathless that still exist in Elatreus can be counted in one hand.

She survived those dark days, and endured. Yet the embers of hatred still burn strong within her heart. The Deathless will never recover, as will her hatred for the Divine never subside.

Placing himself in her shoes, Kalinor quickly realized the awkward situation she is in — having to babysit the Gods’ Chosen One, as well as facing his own absurd suggestion to marry the man. Small wonder she was mad. That, at least, allowed Kalinor to secure his grip on his patience.

“Better to rule mortally as a shining exemplar of a man than rule eternally as a dwindling god.”

“Again, that’s not yours to decide, Kira. And I dare say even you aren’t ready for divinity.”

“Never said I was. Never said I wanted to be. Nice try swerving the topic into something irrelevant.”

“Anything to stop you from committing heresy.”

“You’re too kind, Kalinor. Kindness in excess gets you killed.”

“Then, back to the matter at hand. Forget about the whole ‘Paragon becomes a god’ thing. I’ll rephrase my question; how is he as a man?”

“He is an idiot. An impetuous idiot.” Kira retorted. “He’s short-sighted and seemingly obsessed with pleasing everyone and wanting this war to end as quickly as possible. He constantly rushes into combat, always aiming to kill the Deathknight no matter what, often not even considering what would happen if he were to be killed. And this nearly gets himself killed multiple times, by the way. Sometimes I wonder why the Flame even chose him.”

She stood up and limped towards the window. As she parted the curtains and stared at the world outside, Kalinor could swore that mysterious blush materialized around her face once again as her expression softened.

“But, all negatives aside, he’s a good man. He wanted what’s best for everyone. He cared for his men like they were his brothers. He isn’t arrogant, he has a strong moral core, and though he often struggles with the responsibility and expectation people place on him as a Chosen One, he still tries his best…”

Kira paused, and placed her left hand on the window, distancing her ring-finger from her pinky and middle finger.

“He would make a fine husband for a very lucky woman. And a remarkable father for their sons and daughters….. ” She softly mumbled

She kept staring at her ring-finger, as if transfixed. Could the Deathless Witch be truly in love with someone?

A wave of unease swept through Kalinor’s heart.

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