|Xylen Felicitia, the High Priestess of Valanis|
About ten minutes’ walk from the main entrance, Robert finds himself in a huge, oddly-shaped room. Actually it’s Ankh*)-shaped. The main, round part is the Pope’s throne room, and there are also three-way, T-shaped hallways in front of the room. Robert comes from the hallway straight in front of the throne room.
(* Ankh: The Mark of Vadis and the Holy Force. In our world, it’s the mark of Osiris, an Egyptian god. The round part is called the ‘head’, the horizontal line below is the ‘hand’, and the vertical line is the ‘foot’. The mark portrays Vadis himself in the beginning of most of his teachings.
The throne room – not like in palaces – looks like a cathedral with the floor with tiers that also function as seats for the church officials. The seats are circling a grandstand at the lowest tier on the farthest corner of the room. Five chairs stand on that grandstand behind a long, large table.
Observing these arrangements, we can readily assume that a Pope is a servant for all Vadisians, not the other way around, and the function of the room is more for conferences and lawmaking than audiences in a ‘worldly’ monarchy.
There seem to be no big conference going on at the moment, but the Pope is there with her aides, discussing something with the five seats now circling the table.
‘Stay here for a while, you three. I’ll inform the Pope that you’re coming,’ says Andreas. He walks towards the Pope very carefully. He salutes when he is quite close by the Pope, and then whispers something in her ear. The Pope stands up at once, and looking at the guests, she says,
‘Come closer, Vadis’ Champions!’
As Robert walks towards the grandstand, he is astounded to see the Pope, although it’s shown in his eyes only. Pope Xylen Felicitia is indeed a divinely beautiful lady. Her aquamarine eyes and hair match perfectly with her pinkish skin, while the white-gold Divine Papal Robe she’s wearing expresses her absolute, unquestionable authority as Vadis’ ambassador, representative and prophet in this world.
Pope Xylen turns to her aide and commands with a moderate, calm voice.
‘Sister Solnii, summon the rest of the champions in this room now, so we can proceed. This meeting is adjourned.’
Solnii the priestess salutes Xylen and immediately darts away to do as she was told. The other high priests in the meeting immediately stand up, salute and leave the room orderly and quietly.
Andreas, Bernides and the guests take their seats on the floor, second tier from the bottom and wait. Pope Xylen’s face turns very serious, as this affair concerns all Aurelia and all Eternia.
A minute later, they hear footsteps coming from the throne room entrance. A monk comes in, followed by a man and a she-elf. The she-elf notices Robert and shouts,
‘Robert! Oh, Robert! Praise Enia you’re here!’
Chris also greets Robert enthusiastically, ‘Robert, my man! You finally finished your training! Well done!’
‘Thanks, guys,’ says Robert. ‘How’s Carol?’
Chris says, ‘She’s just fine, thanks to Algaban’s directions. She’s resting in the dormitories now. You know, Rob,’ he pauses a while, a bit taken aback. ‘She kept murmuring your name in her sleep.’
Robert is surprised on hearing this, but he doesn’t say a word. Just then some more people come into the hall. The priestess Solnii is accompanied by five people: Viscount Adler von Bachmann, wielder of the cursed sword Kraal’shazar; Kyflynn the night elf assassin and his partners Desmond Edmundsen the barbarian berserker and Agustina Vyrakova the ice mage; and last but not least, Prince Alexis Deveraux of Arcadia.
Without saying a word, the champions exchange glances. Adler looks at Robert with disdain, and as soon as all champions take their seats, Pope Xylen begins her speech with the reason of Adler’s sourness upon Robert.
‘Please forgive us, Lord Adler, for the delays and for borrowing the Aurora to pick Robert up. We have to wait until Robert’s training is finished because he, like the rest of you who fought in Enia’s Sanctum has the right to hear about what I’m going to tell you.
Eidos briefly explains about Robert who was attacked by harpies, and when he’s finished, everybody stares at Robert with concern.
The Pope continues, ‘And that’s just one of many. Zal’fira’s raid. A Cardinal stabbed to death in his sleep. A palace attendant in Myrcalia was found dead with her throat slit, and many more. Now you might say that the murders were ordinary crimes, but as the raids and attacks from the dark forces and the murders have come into an alarming number, we can be sure that the dark forces are active now.
Let me tell you one fact: Our mission in Enia’s Sanctum failed.’
That bit of news struck the champions like lightning. Even Adler gets up and yells in protest,
‘That’s nonsense! We stopped Vordac and Paliades there! Vordac is gone! This sword is the proof that his spirit has left it!’ Adler nudges to his sword Deathblade.
‘Indeed, Lord Adler, Vordac’s spirit has departed from the sword, but not from Eternia. You may assume that he perished with Paliades, but I tell you, he’s still here.
The knowledge that moved me to gather the champions to Enia’s Sanctum came from no other but Vordac himself, who invaded and tortured my mind just to let his words through. It was an ultimatum, a threat!
Then, when word came to me that Paliades was the heir and was destroyed, I thought Vordac’s threat was over and we can breathe freely again. But once again, Vordac invaded my mind, telling me that he still exists. Paliades was not the heir, he was just a decoy. Vordac gave most of his energy to Paliades as reward, but never went inside him. The real heir, Vordac’s new host is actually around all this time, and he has made his moves just recently.’
‘And so, it’s clear at last,’ Kyflynn cuts in. ‘We’re just pawns, baits tossed into Vordac’s trap.’
Father Bernides gets up at once and replies calmly, ‘Nak, nak, I wouldn’t say such thing if I were you, Master Kyflynn. You can say that to our fallen friends and my late brothers, but Sister Xylen, believe it or not, insisted on going there at first. Our brothers and sisters persuaded her not to go, I volunteered to go in her stead, and she confided in me.
Me and my brothers must disguise ourselves because our magicks and powers are lacking, compared to you, the champions. We must spare our mana to do telepathic communications with the Pope. I hope that answered your question, Robert.’ Robert responds with a quick nod.
‘Brother Bernides, you don’t have to tell them that much to save my face,’ says Xylen with authority. ‘I was the one to blame. I was ignorant about Vordac’s cunning that truthfully exceeds my mind. For that, I, who led you all into deathly traps, beg your forgiveness.’
Saying that, Xylen who is standing in front of the champs on that moment, goes down to her knees. This puts a surprise on almost all champions, except, naturally, Robert and Agustina.
Adler, however, remains indifferent and talks, ‘Hundreds came, hundreds died, but only one claimed the prize!’ He rubs the Deathblade Kraal’shazar hanging on his back. Xylen’s action meant absolutely nothing to him.
Now everybody stares back to see the one who said that. It was Robert. Bernides is a bit confused and amazed to hear that, because it was Robert who talked bitterly of the Pope a while ago. But his expression changes when Robert continues.
‘I, representing all hunters who died and suffered in Enia’s Sanctum, swear before this sword,’ He draws his saber Grimlock and lifts it up in the air. ‘That we understood the Pope’s position over this matter, and thereby pardon her. However, if there’s any single proof that Pope Xylen is untrustworthy, and if anyone should raise any more doubt about Enia’s Sanctum again, they all must answer to this sword, Grimlock.’
‘Fair enough,’ says Kyflynn.
‘Make that Grimlock and Colathaloc. I’m with Robert,’ says Alexis.
However, Adler of Borgia objects.
‘Humph! How dare this... peasant made such oath and expected us to honor it? No way, not in a million years!’
‘Then perhaps our swords will tell whether I’m worthy of such oath,’ says Robert, pointing his Grimlock towards Adler.
‘Let’s do, now.’
Adler also points his Kraal’shazar straight to Robert’s neck. The two champions are at a brink of a fight, but before Adler unleashes his first move, Fingers of the Blade, Pope Xylen shouts,
‘STOP IT, you two! Please, don’t spill blood in this holy place!’
Robert and Adler stop at once. Adler just realized that he has embarrassed himself with such a childish act, and Robert sheathes his sword with thoughts of his own.
There was too much blood spilled in Enia’s Holy Place. Know you what of holy? Know you what of blood? Who tricked whom? Who blasphemed against whom? I took that oath so we don’t dabble in the past anymore and focus on making plans to stop the heir. I better stick to it and not ruining it now. I’ll settle this with Adler when we are out from the Holy City.
While Robert is deep in his thoughts, Christopher speaks up, ‘My friends, what Robert meant was we better not quarrel over spilled milk anymore, and focus on the dangers ahead. As the Holy Mother has most of the information we need, we better ask her to share it with us so we can stop the heir before more blood is spilled.’
‘Well said, brother,’ says Alexis. ‘I couldn’t agree more.’
It takes a moment for Robert to realize something.
Alexis... he called Chris ‘brother’!? No wonder they look almost alike! So, my apprentice is a prince after all. Well, he’s got a lot to explain after this meeting’s over.
And it took Chris a bit longer to realize that his brother has just revealed his real identity to Robert, Iris and all people in that room. Whether it was accidental or deliberate, Chris is very upset because that one word, ‘brother’ was spoken by the right person in the wrong time. Chris doesn’t speak another word until the end of the meeting.
‘Thank you, Prince Cristophe,’ says Xylen.
Oh, that’s his real name all right, Robert thinks.
Xylen talks on, ‘What we must do now is to think and prepare against the heir’s next attacks. Most likely, he will strike in Valanis, as this is the center of the Holy Forces. And I will be his main target. So, I’m going to ask you a favor: Please stay here and guard me until we can identify and apprehend the heir. If he chose to strike somewhere else, feel free to go there to investigate, but at least two or three of you please stay.’
Robert says, ‘I’ll stay. My friend is still under treatment here, so I practically have nowhere else to go to. I’ll stay until Carolyn is fully healed.’
‘Of course we’ll stay here too, as members of Robert’s hunting party,’ says Iris.
‘I and my party will go,’ says Adler. ‘There’s no point staying guard here when we might be better off hitting the road.’ Hernan and Eidos may have different thoughts, but their silence signifies that they decided to follow their party leader (and keep their eyes on him).
‘I, Desmond and Tina have talked, and we agree to stay for a while,’ says Kyflynn. ‘Three weeks max. Then we’ll go about our business and help if called.’
Alexis says, ‘I’m needed in Arcadia, so I’ll go after settling some diplomatic affairs here in Valanis. I’m very sorry, Holy Mother.’
Xylen is thoughtful for a moment, and then says, ‘I see. Maybe my request is too troublesome for you and your businesses. So, let’s make this three days. Stay here in Ascension for three days, no lest, no more.
I have a strong feeling that everything we’re discussing here will go to the heir sooner or later, and he might want to take immediate action. Three days. It’s not for me. Do that for Vadis and everything you believe in. The heir drew first blood, and we’ll make sure he won’t bleed this world dry.’