Chapter 20 (8th of Vashi in the year 6199)

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"Then don't piss me off." The snarl that accompanied Cassandra's response was hardly masked.

"Stop passing the blame for what you did. Deran was a good man. And he gave you more than it was obvious you deserved."

"Don't press your luck, curt."

"Ooooh, racial slurs... the domain of a weak mind."

Cassandra ended the conversation right there. She would not let this... this dwarf get on her last nerve. She inhaled a deep breath and reminded herself that she needed him. But, if the time ever came where he outlived his usefulness, she'd find a suitable way to end his pathetic existence.

Clouds as black as those from the boilers powering the Dragon Ships now rose into the air from the shoreline. Cassandra had seen enough. "Signal the dragons to return. I will deem this test successful."

"So," the sudden voice did not startle Lord Hedric during his nighttime stroll through the palace

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"So," the sudden voice did not startle Lord Hedric during his nighttime stroll through the palace. "My sources tell me you are launching an attack on Fimmirra." The form of an elf, his skin pale and taut, twisted from the sill of the window where he had been lounging as the undead lord walked past.

"Abbatt, I did not send for you." Lord Hedric did not stop, and the elf picked his pace to match his own. Even as the light of the Eye of Earoni shone upon him, Lord Hedric did not sense himself weaken even a bit. His bond with Cassandra had granted him a great improvement to his less than desirable condition. He'd even been able to take strolls through the palace gardens, albeit only during sunrise and sunset, without his skin burning.

"No, of course not," the dark elf confessed. "I came to find out why you would not tell your old friend about such a monumental undertaking. Especially one involving ships designed to carry dragons? I was, however, surprised that you kept such a secret from me this long."

"No one knows about it except those directly involved. Do you think I would risk letting King Turon learn about it and prepare a defense? And why are you so concerned?"

"I thought we had trust?"

"Trust is earned. You've failed to keep up your end of our bargain. The Elven Kingdoms still stand. Until they fall, and you have some hand in that, I do not want to hear from you again."

"Even if I have important news?" Abbatt spoke and stopped. Lord Hedric paused his pace as well and turned to face him. "Apparently your new chief general wasn't the only survivor of the attack on Ambassador Stormband's convoy almost two decades ago."

That drew a quizzical look from the man who had toppled the Hitithe Empire. "How did you know she was a Stormband?"

Abbatt grinned. "Come on. Nightwing? That's not a surname. It's a title." The elf shrugged. "So I did some digging. Wasn't hard to figure it out. Rumor was that the Ambassador had some children. But after the attack, and before my kin showed up, too late to thwart the attack and thanks to me by the way, and they didn't find any dead kids? Everyone just assumed the information was wrong. It's hard to get good intelligence about people who live on islands surrounded by a reef that doesn't let enemies pass. Your general is the right age and everything. Now, do you want to know about the other survivor or not?"

Lord Hedric waved his hand dismissively and resumed walking. "If you mean her twin sister, I'm already aware of that."

Like a curious puppy, Abbatt followed. "But, do you know where she's headed right now?"

"Back to Fimmirra. At least that was General Nightwing's guess. Seems the two of them were each given one of the keys needed to unlock the shrine where the Tear of Earoni resides. She said that they had some powers and warmed when nearby. And that hers came to life when she was onboard the ship that fled Catersburg with that rebel who tried to assassinate her."

"That's where she was. True. But not anymore. King Turon has dispatched a new diplomatic mission to reforge the union between Fimmirra and the Elven Kingdoms."

Lord Hedric paused again, taking in the new information. He pondered the meaning of it, a bit of fear climbing into what would have been his soul. Although he knew it should not surprise him to hear this. The Child of the Storm had come. And her presence was not to be taken lightly.

As he searched his power that linked him to the other child of Stormband, he felt how strong and resolute she was. Even with the distance between them, her bond was dominant, overshadowing all others who had come to him and sought a price for power. He could sense through that connection that she was his ally and that she would not betray him.

While the fear of what could happen because of the prophesies remained, the last remaining Blood Lord smiled. "Inconsequential. By the time the elves decide to once again become part of this war, those islands will be nothing more than smoldering rocks.

"We've discovered a way to assist you. Even though the fairies have shut us off from Undulhava, we've found a means to access it. We can surprise our foolish brothers and sisters and show them that resistance is not a wise path. We are ready to attack."

"Good." Lord Hedric beamed a smile. "Begin your assault, my friend. Once Fimmirra falls, the Elven Kingdoms will follow. Bring me the First Daughter. Alive. She knows the way to the shrine. Soon, all three of the keys to the finding the shrine will be in my possession. And you will have access to the most powerful artifact ever to exist."

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