With the incident involving Dola settled now I could return my attention to the war. Currently three weeks out at this point from my deadline I was going over scout reports, and old maps of the area. Sitting on my lap eating her snack Dola was also looking over the maps. For anyone outside the circle of elites that knew about the engagement this scene would make them think I was dotting on her. In reality, this was the alternative to making love to her. To maintain my morals I opted for this option instead. It kept her smiling which was all I cared about.
“Mister James, what are these markings?”, she asked.
“Dola, I told you can call me James now.”, I said with a smile, “As for those marking that means that the ground is unstable there. It is unsafe for building on, or for marching across.”
“Oh, what about these one’s?”, she asked pointing to some markings in immediate area near us.
“That would be mining operations.”, I said, “They are on this map so that the former king knew were the ground may become unstable.”
Nodding she continued nibbling on her snack till something else caught her interest. Yanking a small map out from the pile she showed it to me. As it had been the stack I had yet to go through I looked over it carefully. Not noticing anything I asked if something stood out to her. Laying the small map over a section of the bigger map everything lined up except for a few markings. This smaller map had no markings so it was difficult to tell what they meant. Thanking her for the discovery she asked that I reward her. Going in to kiss her on the forehead she kissed my lips instead. Giggling like a spoiled child she ran off to find the other women. Calling a meeting with Darvain, Jarvis, Darius, George, and Lagas I showed them our findings.
“That is interesting. Do you think there are more maps in that stack?”, Lagas said.
“I already check. That was the only one. Your daughter certainly has a good eye.”, I told Darius.
“She comes from good stock after all!”, he boasted.
With a smile I nodded with a slight laugh. Showing them the map again none of them knew what the markings were. George turned to me, and suggested I bring the one’s who knew what they meant here. With a sigh I completely agreed that it made sense to bring the former Queen of Flamoria out of hiding.
“Where do I need to dispatch a rider?”, Lagas asked.
“Nowhere. I hid them in the last place anyone thought to look, the military.”, I laughed.
“What…”, everyone said looking at me.
“Remember how you were in need of medics almost a year, and a half ago?”, I reminded George.
“You son of a bitch!”, he laughed, “That’s who those high quality medics were.”
“Yes, can you summon them up please.”, I asked.
Nodding he beckoned them to the room. Seeing me I informed them that it was safe to speak normally. Handing her the map I hoped she could shed some light on the mystery map. Before she could tell us though Susan, and Hesta came in.
“Sapphire!”, Susan said embracing the former Flamoria Queen, “I am glad you are okay. My word, your daughter’s are expecting!”
The two former princesses were smiling happily rubbing their stomachs. Hesta walked over with a glazed expression. Asking if they were mine I shook my head. Informing her I set them up with good husbands she relaxed. Currently only Sapphire was single, but given her loyalty to her late husband I hadn’t pressed her. Asking about the map again she gave me an explanation.
“These markings were dead drops.”, she said, “They were used as spy information hubs. Marks that look like that usually had some sort of building in the area they used.”
“I see.”, I said rubbing my chin, “We may get some useful information left behind by fleeing spies.”
Agreeing with me George, and Lagas dispatched men to search those areas. After pouring over the papers the men left leaving the former princesses, and two former Queens with me. Letting the former Flamoria princesses talk with Hesta I spoke with Sapphire.
“Is there any information you can give me that could help recapture the area.”, I said.
“No, sadly most of my time was spent dealing with foreign ambassadors or with my daughters.”, she said frowning.
In her mid forties already the slim, brown-haired, opal eyed woman looked very happy with her situation. Being an expecting grandmother she was content with how life had gone. her only regret was that her husband couldn’t see his grandchildren. Agreeing that it was an awful shame I asked about possible taking a new husband. Looking at me hesitantly I reminded her that I was just thinking about her happiness.
“At this point, yes.”, she said, “I have come to terms with the loss of my husband, and now I want companionship. Seeing the smiles on my daughter’s face through their pregnancies has made me both happy, and sad. I thank you for finding them excellent loving husbands.”
Susan winked at me like some kind of signal. Not understanding she did a hand gesture that was unmistakable. Motioning at Sapphire Susan nodded with a pleading smile sending Hesta off to watch Dola I asked Sapphire her thoughts on it.
“If its with you I am satisfied.”, she said with a smile.
For the next few hour I conquered two nations sewing seeds of harmony in both. When I was bouncing Sapphire on my lap she seemed really desperate. Coming to find out she wanted to give me child I made sure to stuff her more. Since I wouldn’t see her for a while I felt it was ok. She had been waiting for me for a while evidently so after she was stuffed she told me to continue.
Later that same day the men returned with the information we had been dying for. This information that was recovered revealed the original nest site which was crucial. The Main Decay Queen was far to large to move after setting up her nest. This meant the nest was permanent once she made it. With exact coordinates now we had all the pieces together. Rallying the men for one final push everyone was itching for a fight. When reinforcements arrived to garrison the fort we set off to the nest.
Setting up the cannons on a nearby hill they opened fire on the nest just after sunset. As the cannonballs fell we charged in on horse back. Taking the hordes of Decay head on the fighting instantly turned into a bloodbath on both sides. Charging forward with Lagas, and Darvain I lead us into the nest. Sadly the nest was better fortified than we had anticipated. Hammering on the outside had done little damage inside the nest.
“Darvain, can you smell the Queen?”, I asked.
“Yes, she is straight ahead. It appears she has company as well.”, he said as we ran into her chamber.
Standing before the Decay Queen was a man dressed in a black robe. Unable to see his face we called out to him. When he didn’t respond Darvain remembered the description of the merchant we had received from the men. Finding him in this situation we drew the conclusion that the merchant, and him were the same person. Running towards the man out of rage Darvain got within ten feet before the man waved his hand effortlessly. Next thing I knew I saw a splatter of red across the ground, and Darvain flying past me.
“Darvain!”, I said running to his side.
A deep gash was cut across his chest. Looking at him he was in a lot of pain. Having changed my job to Martial Arts Master when we arrived I couldn’t change my job. With no potions on hand he was living on borrowed time. Calling for Lagas to try, and heal him I charged the robed man. Knowing that he would move faster than I could register I had to keep thinking a few steps ahead. Sliding towards him at ten feet I felt a breeze fly over my head. In a smooth motion I slashed at him with my cutlass only to have it stop mere inches from his cloak. Unphased I switched to my rifle hoping to catch him off guard. Before I could pull it all the way up I heard a gunshot.
Not understanding what happened I felt my left arm go numb. Looking at my left shoulder a clean bullet hole was very noticeably visible. Enraged now I launched a flurry of well placed blows only to have him casually block them. Confused as to how this was happening I was at a loss for words. In my four years here on this planet not many people could equal me, but no one I had met in recent years had been this overwhelming. In a split second he hit me in the gut extremely hard. Almost losing consciousness I decided to play his game. As I went to activate my blessing he smiled at me before kicking me on the side of the head. Before I faded out I managed to fire off a shot from the rifle using my limp hand.
A few days later I woke up covered in bandages with several people around me where saddened expressions. Sitting up no one was in the mood to speak. Looking to my right I saw the reason why. Laying in carts outside the tent many dead men laid piled up. Asking how this happened Darius spoke up.
“The three of you went into the nest, and a black-robed man came out shortly afterwards.”, he said, “Smelling of blood we assumed he was an enemy, and charged him…”
“Three thousand men he killed before leaving us in peace.”, George said clenching his fist, “He was toying with us the whole time!”
“Where is Darvain, and Lagas?!”, I said remembering what had occurred.
“James…”, Amber said looking at me with moist eyes.
It hit me like a freight train. Shaking my head in disbelief I couldn’t imagine the two of them dying so easily. I knew Darvain had been injured, but Lagas should have been able to heal him. In a panic I tried to get out of bed. Holding me back Amber shook her head pleading me to rest for now. I couldn’t handle this right now. Two of my best friends killed by the one person who had clearly outmatched me was tearing me to pieces.
Bringing me to my room the ten of us huddled together for comfort. On the three-month mark it was announced we had reclaimed the land that I promised the people of the continent. While the people rejoiced the men who survived that fight attended the burial for the lives lost. Clenching my hands in anger seeing the caskets of Lagas, and Darvain I felt so powerless. After seeing the place where they found us it was apparent the robed man rendered me unconscious before killing Lagas leaving Darvain to bleed out. I was so ashamed with how cocky I had become thanks to thinking I was the top dog in the world.
Realizing I was no longer on top I felt vulnerable, and felt that if he had wanted to my family could have died by his hand. This was an unnerving thought that made me sick to my stomach. I needed to gain more power, but it would take many years to reach his level. What I needed right now was a solution that I could use to fight him in a worst case scenario. I decided then that there was only place I had to return too…the Iron Mountains to see the blacksmiths. If anyone knew where I could find a weapon that could do it it was them.