Emonael watched the army moving down the road from her vantage point on a hill, hidden in the shadows of a tree. It was a rather impressive army, she supposed, nearly three thousand soldiers gathered together, when most of the nations in the region could only muster perhaps ten thousand soldiers in total, yet this was purely the soldiers that King Berys could muster from his personal lands. She supposed that was the advantage of having prepared for war for some time. Not that it would do him much good, she reflected coldly, a smile creeping onto her face.
Prince Vindi Berys was leading the column of soldiers, resplendent in gold-washed armor and with several squires and knights beside him as their horses led the way. Scouts were moving ahead of the army, but they seemed more concerned with keeping up a brisk pace than with checking the woods heavily. Emonael couldn’t entirely blame them, since they thought they were in safe territory. And they would be, if Emonael hadn’t leaked information to the rebels about the prince coming to kill them, as well as his route.
For a time she’d almost been worried that they wouldn’t act on the intelligence, which mildly concerned her… but at last they’d made a decision, and one which delighted Emonael. Now she just had to watch.
The column moved forward more, then still more. The spark of light along the treeline was almost invisible, but Emonael was watching for it, as a mage enchanted the arrow of the archer, then the man loosed it. The arrow was glowing, and drew attention quickly, but not quickly enough.
Prince Berys’s armor was good, but not good enough to stop the arrow that punched through the small gap between the front and back plates. And it was even less use when the arrow erupted in a massive blast of fire that scorched all of those around him, reducing the prince to a smoking ruin that had once been a man. Emonael smiled.
“Sorry, Teacher, but… I do feel pleasure watching them destroy one another.” Emonael whispered apologetically, standing up as the soldiers surged into panicked motion. Triumph rushed through her, but she forced it down. She hadn’t won yet, after all.
Whether the assassins escaped or not wasn’t any of Emonael’s concern. No, her main concern was to ensure that she timed things just right. With that in mind, she murmured the words of a spell to turn herself invisible, then another to take flight.
Tethlyn’s capital was only a day and a half away by fast courier, she knew, and she needed to be there when the messenger arrived.
“Get out!” Artinious ordered viciously, resisting the urge to backhand the quivering courier who’d just arrived. His rage was incalculable, and the weakling quickly turned and fled the room, while Artinious made a note to punish the man later. Just as he was going to punish every mage and soldier who’d failed to keep Vindi safe, if the man had been right.
It took every bit of self-control Artinious had to keep from crumpling the message in his hand, but he had to read it. Perhaps the man had been wrong, maybe Vindi was simply injured, not killed. It wouldn’t be the first time a messenger had heard incorrect rumors, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Stomping over to his desk, Artinious picked up the letter opener and used it to break the seal on the message. He doubted that anyone would poison him now, but he couldn’t be certain, and he wasn’t about to take any chances.
The wax seal cracked as he cut it free, and Artinious tossed the letter opener to the desk as he opened the message, quickly beginning to read it. The words were a little hard to read, as though the person who’d penned the message had been in a hurry and hadn’t had a good surface to write on. Even so, the words were clear enough, and Artinious’s heart clenched in his chest, grief and anger swirling together, then erupting through him.
“Gods damn them! I’m going to destroy them, every single one of the traitorous bastards!” Artinious roared, crumpling the message and throwing it aside angrily, his chest heaving as he looked for something convenient to break. “They dare take my son from me?”
“Excellent. Now you know exactly how I felt.” A woman purred from somewhere behind him, sending a chill down Artinious’s back, almost quenching his anger, and he spun around, searching for the source of the voice.
The source was readily apparent, as an elven woman with dark eyes, brown hair, and a beautiful face was standing next to his bookcase, though her lips were curved in a smile of pleasure. There was something familiar about the green-robed figure, but Artinious wasn’t sure what, especially not as his temper snapped.
“Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here? Guards!” Artinious demanded, snatching his sword from the rack next to his desk and throwing the sheath to the side.
“Ah, it seems Imel was far more intelligent than you were. No wonder he was your spymaster.” The woman replied sweetly, which sent a ripple of shock through Artinious, but with his temper already over the edge … well, he didn’t even realize what he was doing before he swung his sword at the woman with a roar.
For an instant a grin played across his lips as he split her in two, the enchanted blade cutting through the shelves and books behind her effortlessly, then his smile vanished, as he realized there hadn’t just been little resistance, but no resistance, as the two halves of the woman shimmered, then vanished like a soap bubble.
“What in the—” Artinious demanded, concern quenching much of his rage like a bucket of cold water, and he spun around to see the woman on the other side of his desk, grinning broadly.
“Magic is a very useful tool. It’s quite unfortunate for you that you’ll never get to see how it could’ve made your country a better place, but that’s the price you’ll pay for killing Marin.” The woman interrupted, and Artinious’s eyes widened, fear quenching the last of his anger as the pieces fell into place, and he realized who the woman was.
“Emonael.” He said, and glanced at the door as he called out again, this time in worry. “Guards? Guards! Get in here!”
There was no response, and the woman’s laughter filled the room, drawing his gaze back to her.
“They can’t hear you. I ensured that much before I decided to confront you. I thought about letting you die wondering what had happened, but I just couldn’t keep myself from confronting you in person.” Emonael said, her gaze fixed on his, her eyes like coals boring into his own, and it made him feel like he was alone against a dragon. “It’s a risk to my plans, but not a significant one.”
That dispelled much of Artinious’s fear, and he growled. “If it’s a risk, then I have a chance to deal with you first!”
He charged forward, and the woman clicked her tongue. The instant he swung his sword, she sidestepped and pushed the flat of his blade with her hand, causing him to bury it deep into his desk, deep enough that it would take him a few seconds to recover it. Seconds in which she spoke a few arcane words, flicking a finger through the air, and a red light flashed from her finger into Artinious’s chest.
Pressure suddenly erupted through Artinious’s chest painfully, like his heart had suddenly bloated or someone had grabbed it, and he gagged as pain tingled its way up toward the base of his neck, so that he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Artinious let go of his sword as he fell to a knee, trying to speak and failing.
“How does it feel to be having a heart attack?” Emonael asked sweetly, her tone venomous. “And no, you killing me was never a risk. The risk was that someone might notice me here, but I had to come here and confront you personally. You gave the orders that took Marin from me.”
“Damned… b-bi—” Artinious gasped, but agony seared through him, cutting off his words as the pain grew still worse, and his vision began to blur.
“Oh, I am. I’m willing to admit that I’m a vindictive, vengeful bitch that’s going to haunt your nation for as long as it exists, and even longer.” Emonael said, crouching down in front of him, her face barely visible as the pain grew stronger. “I’m going to erase you, Artinious. Your nation, your family… in a century, you’ll all be a footnote in history. In a millennium, I’ll have destroyed every last bit of evidence that you existed, save for what’s in my own archive. That’s a promise. Now die, hm? I can’t wait for the nobility to hear that you were so enraged at the death of your son that you destroyed part of your office, then died of a heart attack.”
Artinious tried to growl, but he couldn’t quite muster the strength. Instead, with one hand clutching his chest, he reached for the woman angrily, desiring nothing more than to strangle her before he died as well.
Everything went black before he reached her, and the last thing he saw was his hand falling to the carpet.