The clashing of swords began to fade as more and more men fell victim to the army of Asgoth. Outnumbered and outmatched, Asgoth had taken the peaceful city of Zithel by surprise. Human blood now painted the once beautiful infirmary gardens, vineyards, and cemetery orchards. Even the manmade fountain, where the people would cast in gemstones—a different stone for a different wish—now contained the heads of Zithelian fighters. The decapitated heads turned the water crimson as they bobbled within the pool.
Lord Adeleric and his wife remained trapped in the upper chamber of the tower, having no choice but to witness their people slaughtered. Heavy footsteps from outside of the chamber door neared as the enemy stormed up the stairway.
“Rosa, stay behind me!” Adeleric said, stepping in front of her quickly. “Don’t resist them. We may have a chance.”
“Are you sure it’s not our guards?” she asked.
He sighed. “…They’re all dead.”
Suddenly, what could have only been a dozen fists smashing against the door caused Rosa to scream.
“Stay calm,” Adeleric urged. “Let them come.”
The door was breeched and in rushed a horde of lizard-like men, each of them double the height of a common man. They looked around the chamber, seeing no other besides Adeleric and Rosa.
“You can have me,” Adeleric said.
“No!” Rosa begged, clenching his arm.”
He grabbed her hand and squeezed it, trying to reassure her. “You killed my army yet spared our young boys and girls. Spare my wife as well. Let her go and take me. Whatever it is you want of me.”
One of the lizardmen snarled, showing its teeth that dripped with a discolored saliva. It spoke in its own tongue to the others, and they separated. Six lined up against the left wall, the others against the right.
Around the corner and into the doorway stepped a woman. In one hand she held a staff, the other a decapitated head, swinging it back and forth by its matted and bloody hair. She stood at the entrance, smiling.
Adeleric cringed, recognizing the corpse’s face, one of the fallen guardsmen.
“This one especially wanted me to spare you,” the woman said. “His tone was desperate, unlike your other guardsmen. So, I ended his life painlessly.” She released the head. Striking the floor with a loud thump, it rolled off to the side.
The morning sun shined through the chamber window brighter now, illuminating the woman who had yet to move from the entrance. Adeleric got a better look at her. She was not dressed for battle, no protection except maybe her leather
boots. She wore a long flowing purple dress with a thigh high split. Because of the split, and the way she was standing, her right black boot was exposed and dripping with blood; likely from the decapitated head she had carried. Slowly, she began to walk toward Adeleric and his wife.
“I noticed a working fountain outside,” she said. “Beautifully carved from stone, with an abundant number of gems sitting at the bottom of the pool. I do love gems.”
“What do you want?” Adeleric said, clenching a fist.
“Your home is the highest point of this mountain. The only source of water flows at the base of this mountain, the Azriel River. So, I ask, where are you receiving your water source?”
“Water has always flowed here, coming from within, spouting upward. We utilize it for drinking and ornamental purposes.”
“Water doesn’t flow upwards, you fool. Not unless affected by another source. You have no such source. No higher elevations, no way to channel it. Unless of course it is by magic. Perhaps this phenomenon is due to Arabeth’s crystal—his water crystal.”
“I am not aware of any such crystal.”
She grinned from ear to ear. “I am, and one of the four resides within this mountain.”
“One of the four?”
“The crystals of power from the first age, lost at the end of the second.”
“I repeat, I… know…nothing!”
She stopped abruptly, now standing an arm’s length from him. Her icy breath and violet gaze caused him to shudder. “Are you lying?”
“…I am not. Do whatever you want with me. Just let my wife go, please.”
She turned to Rosa who had been squeezing Adeleric’s hand. She leaned in closer to her, staring into her fearful eyes.
Rosa turned away, cringing.
She ran a finger across Rosa’s cheek, her long black nail scraping the skin. She stroked her hair, sifting her fingers through the strawberry blonde locks. “So beautiful, you are, dearest Rosa.” Her eyes fixed on Rosa’s jewelry; earrings made from amethyst and spinel necklaces of blue, red, and citrine. “Your husband must feel blessed, to have been given such a woman of splendor. Surely, your deities have been good to you. I too am somewhat of a deity, a goddess. Queen Talvenya is my name—”
“Do not compare yourself to my Rosa!” Adeleric shouted.
Something like a shockwave passed through the room, slightly heating the air, and splitting a section of the wall. The lizardmen kept still. Adeleric noticed sweat dripping from their scaly brows, as if they were afraid.
“Your jewelry, dearest Rosa, give it to me,” Talvenya commanded.
Fearing for his wife, Adeleric stepped in between the two.
Casting a glare, Talvenya reached for his left shoulder. Gripping the cap, a cracking of bone brought a smile to her face, and a scream out of Adeleric’s mouth. Next, she forced him to his knees, pushing down on the fractured shoulder.
“Please stop hurting him!” Rosa begged, quickly removing her earrings and necklaces. She placed the jewelry into Talvenya’s hand. “Keep them. They’re yours.”
“I do love gemstones,” she said, smiling delightfully. She put the necklaces on and then the earrings. “Each one tells a story, just like the four crystals of power you claim to know nothing about.”
“I don’t. Please, leave my Rosa alone,” Adeleric begged.
“You’re awfully fond of your Rosa. It’s quite precious.”
“We grew up together—share everything together.”
She scoffed. “And that makes her special?”
“…Please, I am the one you must deal with. I am the Lord of this land.”
Talvenya pursed her lips. “Lord of what land, this pathetic little mountain top I so easily dominated?” She stepped closer to Rosa.
“Speak with me, I beg of you!”
“Oh, but dear Adeleric, you’ve already stated your ignorance of the crystals,” Talvenya mocked. She slid her hand down Rosa’s chest, pressing her fingers against her left breast and tearing the clothing with her nail.
Rosa quivered, keeping her head aside, avoiding Talvenya’s stare.
“Your Rosa…” She smiled. “I’m going to kill her.”
Adeleric rushed at her. Talvenya smacked him across the cheek and he fell to the floor, smashing his face against the granite tile.
“Adeleric!” Rosa cried.
He stood, wiping the blood trickling from his nose. “Queen Talvenya, goddess, deity—whoever you are, don’t do this. I beg of you…”
Ignoring him, Talvenya placed a finger under Rosa’s chin, and lifted to see her face, smiling at those terrified eyes and cascading tears.
“I’ll do anything you command,” Adeleric pleaded. “I’ll search the mountain for you, will not stop until that crystal is in my hands—for you. Only, don’t harm my Rosa.”
She grinned. “Tell your husband to get down on his knees.”
“My knees?” Adeleric asked, before receiving another blow to the face from Talvenya’s open palm. This time, he cried out in pain as his body hit the floor once again, face-down. His cheeks were black and blue, swelled and bleeding, and his chest throbbed because of the hard tile he had crashed onto. For a moment, he could not breathe.
“Stop hurting him!” Rosa shouted.
Talvenya grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off her feet.
Adeleric could hear Rosa gasping for air as her little legs wiggled back and forth. Quickly, he stood. “I’ll do whatever you say, just put her down.”
She released her, and Rosa almost toppled over.
Adeleric rushed over, stretching an arm around her waist to keep his wife steady.
“While you are standing so close to her Adeleric, you should kiss your wife goodbye,” Talvenya said coldly. “It shall be the last time you taste those blush-red lips of hers.”
Adeleric wanted to fight her. He wanted to reach for his sword and separate Talvenya’s head from her body, see if such a cold-hearted creature drew blood. But he knew he would have no chance, especially with several lizardmen gathered around. So, he complied with Talvenya’s suggestion, only he tried imagining the idea as his own. He would kiss her goodbye, passionately, believing he would see her again someday in another world, another realm, where hate and brutality ceased to exist. Reaching for her, he pressed his lips against hers wetting them, messaging them, and inserting his tongue to taste her sweetness.
Her eyes were full of tears and overwhelming passion.
Adeleric wiped the tears as their gazes continued to lock. Then, slowly, he pulled back.
“Do not be afraid, my love. No matter what happens, we will always be together. That I promise you.”
“How touching,” Talvenya commented in a voice cold as ice accompanied by impish laughter. “Now, I command once more, dear Rosa. Tell your husband to get down on his knees.”
She whispered, “Adeler—”
“Speak the words aloud!”
She looked to Talvenya, a submissive gaze accompanied by a sigh of sorrow, then faced her husband once again. “…Adeleric, get down on your knees.”
Adeleric obeyed but tried imagining the command only came from his Rosa—not inspired by this so-called deity queen.
“Tell him you love him.”
“I—I love you,” Rosa cried, “…with all my heart.”
“And with all my heart, I love you,” Adeleric pled.
“Now, extend your hand,” Talvenya commanded.
“Adeleric, Lord of Zithel, take your wife’s hand.”
Adeleric passed her a glare, and then looked to Rosa. Tears were still cascading down her cheeks. “Do not be afraid, Rosa,” he said, firmly gripping her palm.
“My heart—shall always belong to you,” she answered, lightly rubbing her thumb over his palm, letting him know she was aware of his warm touch, aware he was there by her side, no matter what fate awaited her.
“And I shall carry you in my heart, always and forever.” Adeleric closed his eyes and leaned over to kiss her palm. The warm sensation of her skin disappeared suddenly, replaced by what felt like cold stone. He noticed the same feeling on Rosa’s hand. Opening his eyes, he fell back at what he saw. Rosa, from head to toe had become stone, like someone had carved a figure of her—immaculately.
He turned to look at Talvenya. She was holding her staff high, pointing it at Rosa. She cast the spell.
“Beautiful,” Talvenya said.
Adeleric sat speechless, his eyes still, never blinking. A difficult thing to accept; one moment he held Rosa’s hand, speaking with her, the next, she is a figure of stone. He squeezed her hand, perhaps to see if the hard element was real, and when the reality of it finally sank into his heart, he fell to tears.
Talvenya tapped the statue’s forehead with her finger. It fell back, cracking to pieces as it struck the floor. The severed head rolled toward Adeleric and bumped into his knee, stopping. He looked down on it, the face positioned upward, as if it returned the gaze. A smile sang on her cheeks—the last emotion his Rosa felt, happiness while Adeleric had been holding her hand. Teardrops spilled onto the face as he began to weep bitterly. He meant to pick up the head, perhaps to keep it to remember Rosa’s smile, but even that was taken away from him. A black leather boot stomped onto the head of stone, crumbling the face to pieces, grinding it to bits under the sole.
He peered up to see Talvenya, standing above him, smiling like a demon with a gaze of midnight darkness.
“What was the point of this…? Why did you—you do this?” he asked.
“All enemies are mere insects in my path. I do as I like.”
“That cannot be the reason…”
She stared at him a moment, her face going expressionless. “Why should she
have what was taken away from me? Why should you not feel what I have felt?”
“But I know you not!” he shouted.
“…It matters not.”
“Then kill me—kill me too!”
“In time, I promise to.”