The Rune Knight practically fell on his face as he jumped out of his seat at his desk to bow to her. Serilda recognized his face, though she had never caught his name the last time she’d seen him. He had been one of the many Knights present at the Azure Lake incident several weeks ago, and they had not been introduced to each other but she was fairly good with faces. “What can I do for you, my lady?”
“I would like to speak with Captain Langley, please.”
A look of concern fell over his face. “My lady, I’m sorry but he’s swamped right now. He’s been trying to look into the--”
He cut off his own words at the icy look that she gave him, the ire in her gaze more than enough to stop him. “Why do you think I’m here?” she asked him coolly, every bit the dignified but expectant noble that would not stand for being disobeyed. It was not a behavior she used often, as she disliked pulling rank on those lower down the social ladder than her, but there were times that she used it to her advantage.
Right now, the biggest issue was just that she was stressed and angry. Her father had reached out to her the day before to notify her that some new dark guild was trying to set themselves up in Clover Town, and that they’d been wrecking the city in their quest to establish some kind of dominance. They’d destroyed property, harmed her citizens… And she was not pleased. Absolutely nothing would stop her from being a part of this investigation, and it was evident to the man that his only option was to do as she said. “Yes, of course. Please give me just one moment, my lady, so I can inform him you’re here.”
She nodded and he disappeared down a small hallway in the base. A few minutes later he returned and invited her to follow him. Xiuhcoatl walked at her heels, the wolf’s demeanor as much business as her master’s. He lead her into a large investigative room with several desks and a space toward the front where information had been pinned to a board for quick viewing, along with pictures. Every Knight in the room was on his or her feet, talking to one another over sheafs of paper or otherwise looking busy.
“Lady Serilda, it’s good to see you again. I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances.” Captain Langley looked just as he had weeks prior. He came forward and bowed to her.
“Likewise, Captain. Bring me up to speed.”
Langley dismissed the other Knight back to the front desk and brought her over to the board at the front of the room. There, he took off one of the pictures and handed it to her. “They’re calling themselves only the ‘Masked Guild’.” Serilda accepted the photo and looked it over. On it were images of people clad in black robes that covered every inch of their bodies, their faces concealed behind appropriately golden masks. “Mostly they’ve been breaking into homes and shops, stealing things and being generally disruptive. A lot of people have managed to survive, and even snapped these photos before getting out of the way. However, there have been casualties.”
It took every ounce of discipline she had not to crumble the photo in her hand from clutching it too tightly in her fist. They had been killing her people? “How many?” she asked, her voice low and dangerous.
“We’re still receiving information,” he told her softly, recognizing where her anger was coming from. “Right now, the current confirmed count is just over forty citizens.”
Her body stiffened visibly in anger, but the captain was wise enough not to call her on it. “What else?” she asked, doing her best to keep her cool as she handed the photo back to him. Serilda had already memorized their attire, and she would never forget it even if she lived to be a thousand years old.
Langley accepted the photo back and pinned it onto the wall once more. “No names, or even any hints toward identities. They move like chaos, but they are a well disciplined group. They haven’t left any evidence toward their individual selves. Survivors have reported usage of spears, scimitars, and staffs. Magic wise, mostly a lot of earth related magic, though a few have advised that some of them seemed to move more quickly than should be normal for non-wizards. So, we could be looking at some cases of speed or teleportation magic.”
Serilda moved along the wall, eyeing the information with cold, calculating eyes until she came across a map that marked the places that had been hit. The attacks seemed to start toward the outskirts of the city, pushing their way toward the center. Well, mostly. “Thoughts?” she asked, giving him leave to voice opinions on what they knew.
“Best I can assume, they’re trying to make their way in toward the hall where the guild masters meet every year. I have no notion of what kind of items or information might be at that location to catch their interest; they may not even want anything specific outside of making a statement of authority. But that seems to be where they are headed.”
“Let them come.”
The deadliness in her tone was enough to bring even the captain pause. “My lady, are you going to try and take them head on?”
“If I have to. Whatever it takes to apprehend them and bring them to justice for what they’ve done to my town.”
Langley seemed to understand he wasn’t going to be able to stop her. He certainly didn’t have the authority to. “In that case, please take a squad of my men to accompany you. You are an exemplary fighter, my lady, and an accomplished wizard, but it would not do for you to fight an unknown force of wizards alone.”
He was right, of course, and even in her anger she would not be so hard headed as to refuse help. This was their town as much as hers, and they had as much a right to defend it. “Very well. Make your selections. I’ll be waiting outside.”
Serilda dismissed herself and went outside to wait. The cool air would do her some good, or so she hoped. Her thoughts were ripe with fire and brimstone. This Masked Guild was going to pay for the lives they had taken, and for the property they’d destroyed. But, her anger was so great that she knew she needed to discipline herself into better control or she wouldn’t be able to trust herself in the fight ahead.
“Those knights will only get in your way, you know.”
She knew that voice. It sent a chill like ice down her spine; a feeling she wasn’t used to given her resistance to the cold. The voidwalker could feel the fear and hatred that came to life in Xiuhcoatl, the hound crouching down and baring her teeth as she growled low. As before, Serilda could not sense where the man was, like he had no physical body unless he wanted to have one. “Do not play hide and seek with me, Arthas. I am not in the mood.”
Just to the side of her he appeared. Arthas looked exactly as he had before: mostly white clothing that was trimmed in black, and tailored to the cut of his body. His shaggy brown hair was swept back from his face aside from a single strand that rested down the center of his face against his nose. His dark eyes held hers like he could see into her soul and find all the hidden pockets of darkness that she was trying to keep hidden, though Serilda had no such depths that she knew of. He smirked at her lightly. “You remember me.”
“Not willingly, I assure you.” Even though she had more than meant her statement, doing nothing to hide her dislike and distrust of the man in her voice, he merely chuckled like she had said something amusing.
“What? No thank you?”
“What exactly should I be thanking you for?”
“Come now, Lady Serilda. A woman of your station and reputation is hardly become by playing coy.”
She glared at him. He was right. Again. Serilda was starting to hate him. Impressive, given that this was only their second run in with one another, though she knew he’d been watching her for some time. “Thank you for speeding up my investigation,” she finally told him, if begrudgingly.
Arthas smiled at her, a friendly expression that didn’t quite cover up the ill intent in his eyes. “It was my pleasure, miss Sinclair.”
“Why are you here?”
He raised a brow. “Is it not obvious? I have come to assist you again. Or do you truly think these paltry excuses for soldiers are going to be of any use to you?”
Offended, she turned to face him fully. Serilda stared him down with utmost ire, though his calm facade never broke. “These soldiers have worked their asses off for their titles, as well as to be stationed in this town. They deserve leagues more respect than you do here, so I suggest you watch the way you speak of them in front of me.”
“As you wish. Nevertheless, I am here to provide my services once more.”
“Come now. You and I both know I more than proved my worth to you the last time we met.”
“Yes, you did. We also established that you were not to be trusted. So thank you, but I’m not interested in your help.”
Arthas shrugged. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to stop me from following, then.”
They both stared one another down, Serilda dark and Arthas calmly amused. He was challenging her, and she knew it. Unfortunately, she also knew it was a challenge she would not win. The feeling of wrongness she got from him was so powerful that there was no mistaking he could put her in her place without much effort if he chose to. So instead, she changed tactics.
“Why do you want to come?”
“I would like to get to know you better. And see you in action.”
“Well clearly you are capable enough of doing both of those things without my even being aware of you. So, how about you just tell me why you’re really here?”
His smirk widened into a smile, a look that made her uneasy. “Intelligent, stubborn, graceful, proud… You truly are one of a kind.” She returned his expression with a blank one that was quite obviously unimpressed and unmoved by his compliments toward her. Undaunted, he carried on. “How about this. I’ll answer your question after we round up these law breakers. Time is ticking to their next attack, and surely you don’t want to waste it all on me…”
Serilda growled under his breath, but found herself at an impasse. Though she had only met this man once before, she understood him. It was like he was always hiding in plain sight, never obscuring the truth from her about his nature, but also never divulging the details that she wanted. Arthas had made up his mind that she would get no more information out of him until she had played along with what he wanted. Serilda could sense the squad of Rune Knights approaching, which meant that if she didn’t want to cause a scene she would have to made her decision fast.
“Fine,” the noblewoman told him. “But we do this my way.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t dream to have it otherwise.” With another knowing smile, he extended a hand toward her, palm up; a silent invitation for the two of them to shake on the deal. Against her better judgement, she took it. He felt cold, even by her standards, and the very touch of his flesh on her own sent a jolt of panic and acute awareness through her body but she did her best to temper it through steely discipline, never showing the emotions on her face. Arthas only grinned at her slightly as though he were fully aware of what had happened.
By the time the handshake was complete, the Knights had funneled themselves outside. One of them stepped forward and bowed to her. “Sergeant Greer at your service, my lady. What are your orders?”
Casting Arthas a final dark look, she turned to the men. “We’re going to the meeting hall for the guild masters,” Serilda told them. Each man and woman in their ranks watched her carefully, their stances at attention like any group of well trained soldiers. “That seems to be where they are headed, so rather than waste our resources trying to track them down we are going to station ourselves there and wait for them to come to us. Your priorities are to keep the citizens safe at all costs, and to apprehend these criminals alive.”
Serilda turned to give a poignant look at the mysterious man beside her, who merely nodded his understanding that those rules were to apply to him as well. “Any questions?” The Knights didn’t say anything, but many of them were eyeing Arthas with a mixture of concern and confusion. “Don’t worry about him,” she told them plainly. “He is my problem, not yours. And he will not jeopardize our mission.”
That seemed to be good enough for them. “Yes, ma’am. We have no further questions. However, I do have a message from Captain Langley.”
“After you stepped outside, he received word from one of our squads stationed at the market district that they are in custody of a member of the Masked Guild. The prisoner is being held in wait for transport back to the base, but the captain wasn’t sure if you would want to take a detour to that area before heading to the hall.”
They had caught a dark mage? “I do. Let’s head there immediately.”
“Yes, my lady.”
The sergeant faced his troops and ordered them into the waiting lacrimobiles before indicating which would be for her and her guest. A driver waited in the car for them -- another soldier that would serve as their chauffeur. Arthas joined her in the backseat, where neither of them said a word to one another for the duration of the ride, though the man smirked to himself and chuckled lightly quite often. If he was trying to get a reaction out of her, she did not take the bait.
A quick drive was all it took to get them to the market district. As they passed down the street, Serilda couldn’t help but get flash backs to the last time Arthas had mysteriously shown up to lend her a hand back at Ace of Spades. Like that night, there was an abundance of destruction. Shops and buildings were ripped apart and on fire. People hurried frantically up and down the streets trying to ascertain the damage and put out the flames to save as much as they could. “Is this going to be a reoccuring theme with you?” she asked, breaking the silence to turn and look at him.
Though the question had been vague, he seemed to understand what she was getting at. “Yes, though not due to any cause on my part. To speak too much would be to reveal information that we agreed not to discuss until after this little venture is over, but for now suffice to say that I am… drawn… to events such as these, as well as the people that wind up in the center of them.”
“Hmph.” Serilda wasn’t entirely satisfied with that answer, but she knew it was all she was going to get out of him. Soon enough the vehicle stopped and the noblewoman let herself out, with Arthas following behind her. After speaking around with a few of the Knights that had already been present at the scene, Serilda found herself being lead to a makeshift command center that had been set up to control the situation. There, she was introduced to the Knight in charge, who seemed to expect that she might be coming.
He caught them up, explaining that they had been attempting to interrogate the dark mage for some time to no avail. The man said next to nothing, no matter what they did, and refused to relay any details about the Masked Guild or what their goals were. They had already disrobed the dark mage, his strange garments set aside on a table where Serilda was allowed to take a look at them. They were exactly how the had looked in the picture: all black coverings from head to toe, with a gold colored mask that covered the face. Serilda didn’t sense any magical properties on the items, but sensing magic wasn’t necessarily her forte.
She was able to listen in on the interrogation. The Knight that was questioning him was well versed in his job and used a number of strategic methods to try and pry answers from the man, but the prisoner merely sat there silently. Finally, after seeing enough, Serilda turned to the Knight in charge. “I would like to speak with him.”
Less than a couple minutes later, she was in the room alone with the prisoner. He was about her own age, perhaps a little younger, with long blonde hair and brown eyes. He looked up at her curiously as she walked in and leaned against the table in front of him, cold eyes searching him silently for some time. Serilda wanted to get a good look at him, wanted to know what the face of a killer looked like. The most terrifying thing was that he seemed like any other ordinary man. There was nothing especially noteworthy about him. If they had passed one another on the street, she most likely wouldn’t have even stopped to look at him.
There was silence between them for a long while as they sized each other up. “Do you know who I am?” Serilda asked. It wasn’t said in a way to play up her own importance; she was genuinely curious. It was also to see if he would answer, given how he’d been nothing but silent for the previous interrogator so far.
He smiled a bit and shrugged. “One of the Sinclairs. Don’t know all your names. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess you’re the oldest.”
She nodded. “That’s correct. So you can understand from that knowledge why I am here, and what my interest is with all this. Anywhere else and you’d probably just be dealing with the Rune Knights, but here in Clover…” Her voice trailed off a bit as she stared him down calmly. “I am no Rune Knight, nor do I have to follow their methods of questioning. They enforce the law, but here in Clover Town my family is the law. Do you understand?”
It was a loose truth, but a truth nonetheless. The Magic Council and the King in Crocus governed all of Fiore, and there was a general set laws that all cities within the kingdom were bound by, but past that the individual provinces were allowed to dictate their own societies as any other city could. This meant that here, in what was arguably her domain, the Knights would not interfere with however she chose to interact with him -- short of flat out murder and dismemberment.
The man only continued to smile. “I understand. But what you all don’t seem to get is that it doesn’t matter what you do to me. I’m not going to talk.”
Blue eyes narrowed dangerously on him, and the air seemed to chill. “Oh, I don’t care if you talk.” Her response confused him. A slight frown came over his face, shaking him from his even confidence. “Give me the details of your guild and its goals or no, it’s all the same to me. I would rather know your motives, sure, but that’s a mere curiosity at this point. I don’t need to know what you want to take you down, and you don’t need to talk to answer for what you’ve done.”
He stared at her suspiciously, shifting a bit uncomfortably on the chair to which he was tied up. “Then why the hell are you here?” he asked, irritably.
“Because I wanted to know what the face of a killer looked like.” Serilda’s voice was low, and dripping with venom. Getting up slowly, she walked over and stood right in front of him, hover over where he sat as she leaned over and placed her hands on either of the armrests on his chair. Her face was right in his as she told him, “If your guild has an issue or a war with the guild masters and the magic council, then fine. But you involved my city. You murdered dozens of my people, that have nothing to do with the guilds. For that, you will answer to them, and to me.”
Trying to call her bluff, he smirked a bit. “Is that so? What are you going to do? Kill us? Have us put down like dogs? That’s hardly moral. Do that, and you’re no better than us.”
His smirk melted when she didn’t falter, chuckling slightly under her breath. “The act of killing someone in and of itself is not immoral; it’s the intent that separates the men from the dogs.” Serilda added a bit of emphasis on the last word, turning his own analogy against him to insult and degrade him. His expression continued to delve into stony anger as she went on. “And if a dog is rabid, it must but put down -- for the safety of the men and women it might hurt. See, this is where you seem to not be getting the picture.”
Reaching up with one of her hands, she touched a finger to his chest just above where his heart was. The slender digit thumped lightly against his shirt. “I am not just a citizen of Fiore. I’m not just a mage that looks to separate myself from my darker counterparts by protecting the innocent and refusing to do to the likes of you what you have done to others. I am a woman of both title and privilege, but with that comes a responsibility to do what I must for the greater good.”
Her hand began to slip slowly through his chest as she willed the empty space in her body to align with his. Panic washed over his face as he looked down and shifted in discomfort. “See, as an heiress, I don’t always have the luxury of perfect morality. My family has thousands of lives in their care, and in order to keep them safe it’s our duty to put down the rabid curs that would threaten them.”
He let out a pained cry as her fingers wrapped right around his heart, her magic manipulating the space in her body such that she could pass through his exterior flesh and his bones but make direct contact with the vital beating organ within. Serilda did not crush it, but she did constrict it slowly as he cried out in anguish the likes of which he’d never felt before. He could hardly breathe let alone beg her to stop.
And Serilda’s expression had never been more firm. She was not enjoying this -- she was making a point. “You and your pathetic excuse for a guild has made an enemy of the Sinclair house, and that was not a wise decision. Whether or not you want to talk, I will track down every last member of your worthless band, and I will dump the lot of you into the deepest prison pit this country has to offer -- and believe me when I say that it will be your final resting place, where you will die alone, helpless, and forgotten.”
Though she certainly didn’t know even a majority of the kingdom’s secrets, her noble connections did allow her the knowledge of a few things that weren’t common to know, including the fact that there was a deep pit beneath the castle in the capital of Crocus where the worst criminals were sent to waste away to their deaths. It wasn’t a location that the kingdom actively broadcasted, but they also did not hide the truth of its existence.
Serilda released his heart and pulled her hand from his body. The man gasped for breath, heaving and shaking violently as tears of pain ran down his face from wide, terrified eyes. Her face was still inches from his, her blue eyes still cold and hard as steel as she stared him down. “As of tonight, your guild will be disbanded. Your freedoms will be stripped from you as you have stripped the lives from my people. And if I have my way, you will not be put to death. Rather, you will each live long lives in isolation and darkness, where you will die slowly with the firm understanding that no one will have enough compassion for you to show you pity, and that when you are finally gone… not a single person will care.”
With all her focus on the prisoner, Serilda was unable to observe Arthas where he watched through the little one way window. In fact, no one was watching him. All eyes were glued to the scene before them, the Knights captivated and even shaken by the dutiful cruelty she was showing. For all her hardness, Serilda was generally known for being as fair and compassionate as her parents. But like them, she took the protection of her people seriously and was not afraid to do whatever it took to keep them safe.
Arthas was as captivated as the others, though in a different manner. There was a darkness in his gaze, a sort of hunger that did not bode well for the woman whom he’d forced his company upon that night. Waves of wrath and fury pulsated from her aura with a deep intensity that only he could sense, and shook even him to his core -- though not in a way that made him frightened. No, if anything he was invigorated by it. Reaching a hand to his face, he calmly smoothed his expression down to his more traditional, mischievous smirk. The night was not yet over, and there was more to do before he could let her know what it was he really wanted.
Standing upright, Serilda turned and strode out of the little interrogation room. “Do with him as you will,” she told the Knights. “I will make sure the rest of his ilk are brought in to share his fate.”
Very shortly after that, they were back in the cars and on their way to the guild hall. Serilda was absolutely fuming in her seat, her hand balled into a tight fist against her lips. Xiuhcoatl, disliking this temperament in her mistress, wormed her head onto the lady’s lap in an attempt to get her attention. The woman let out a deep, controlled sigh and looked softly down at the creature and unclenching her fist to rest her hand on the wolf’s head. A part of her wished that Mythal was here, but it was probably for the best that he wasn’t. He had a harder time than she with keeping his cool when it came to innocent people being abused, and while his presence always made her feel more calm she couldn’t help but think he might have been even less friendly than she had back in that room.
The very sound of his voice grated her, undoing a fraction of the calm that Xiuh had just restored in the woman. Without turning to look at Arthas, she dryly asked, “Is that so?”
He chuckled. “It is. You are a remarkably disciplined woman, Lady Serilda. There was a moment in there where I wasn’t sure if you were going to kill him or not. In your shoes, many other nobles would have. No one would have blamed you if you had, you know; he is one of many responsible for the loss of your people’s lives. By the laws of numerous governing bodies, it is your right to take his as payment.”
“Maybe where you’re from those of my title have that right, but it is not so here in Fiore.” Serilda answered him simply, nothing in her tone betraying whether or not she was disappointed by that. “He and the others will answer to the Magic Council. If they be judged a death sentence, then so be it, but that is not for me to decide. My job is to remove their cancer from my city and make sure they no longer infect us.”
That seemed to be the end of the conversation, for neither of them said anything more until they reached the meeting hall for the guild masters. From there, Serilda stationed the men in even intervals around the building to keep a lookout on all fronts. After that, it was a waiting game to see when the rest of the criminals would actually show their faces. A couple hours passed with Serilda simmering in cold patience where she sat at the front steps of the hall.
Night had set in full, mirroring the darkness she felt in her soul at that moment. As time drew on, her mind wandered to things she did not wish to think too hard about: Gren’s appearance, Mythal’s recent distancing of himself in light of it… hell, even that stupid woman from Ace of Spades weeks back that tried to spread lies about Hugo. All these thoughts churned in her head, fueling the cold distemper she was feeling in that moment.
Luckily, her thoughts were eventually interrupted by the movement of a large force at the fringes of her senses to the west. “They’re coming,” she announced calmly to those around her, standing to her feet. Waving to a soldier she’d kept nearby for such a purpose, she told him, “Go alert the men. Inform them to keep their posts in case they try a multi-fronted attack. We will hold this position.”
“Yes, my lady.” He took off down the line, letting the Knights know what was going on.
She walked down the steps with graceful purpose, eyes intent on the dark horizon. Directly in front of the meeting hall would she stand, chin held high, shoulders straight with her hands clasped behind her back. She could sense Arthas as he approached to stand on her left, just behind her. “Are you going to be a problem?” Serilda asked him, her voice low enough to keep her question between the two of them though her gaze never left the direction where the dark guild drew closer.
“Absolutely,” he told her simply, a hint of malicious mirth in his voice. And then, as though it were an afterthought, Arthas added, “But not tonight.”
That was good enough for her, for now. Serilda didn’t have time to worry about him anyway. She felt a shift in her senses and stretched out one of her hands just in time to halt a spear from impaling one of the Knights. The Knight barely managed to keep himself from yelping but the surprise was etched on his face. As a wave of dark wizards emerged down the street, she used her magic to drive the tip of the spear into the ground where it would rest for now.
Their opponents spread out and filled the street, stopping with several meters between them and the Knights as both groups adhered to the customary standoff. Serilda noticed then that while the dark mages all wore similar outfits, not all of them wore gold colored masks. In fact, most of them wore silver ones. A display of rank, perhaps?
Serilda spoke up, her voice ringing out across the streets of the town with clear and indisputable command. “I am Serilda Sinclair, Lady of Clover Town and wizard of the Sabertooth guild. This city, and by extension this guild hall, is under my protection. You have one chance, and one chance only, to turn yourselves in without violence.”
Even as she spoke it, she knew the ultimatum was going to be ignored. These wizards had not come all this way to be apprehended, but she needed to follow her part to keep her family’s name and reputation as clear as possible.
Someone in the enemy lines shouted a command, and the first wave of mages rushed forward for battle. “Very well. Knights, hold your lines! Engage only those who manage to get passed us.” Serilda would be damned if she lost any more people tonight, and she would not allow the meeting place of the guildmasters to be invaded. Her focus would be on the assault itself, and the Knights she would put to making sure no one slipped through.
With the intense focus that could only come from equally intense rage, Serilda stalked calmly toward the incoming line of enemies. Withdrawing her sword, Moonlight glowed with eerie purpose in her hand. Xiuhcoatl stalked purposefully to her right, thick wolf muscles rolling along her shoulders with each step the animal took. To her left, Arthas casually strolled with a hand in one of his pockets and a dark gleam in his eyes.
The men charging toward them suddenly slowed, their hands clutching their throats. Serilda had manipulated the Void space in their bodies to push the air out of their lungs and keep the organs from drawing new breath. Reaching back with her free hand, she summon the previously thrown spear back in the air. It raced past her and slammed into the line of dark mages, knocking them back off their feet without stabbing them. A snarl to her right followed quickly by a gagged scream told her that Xiuh had managed to bring another mage to their knees.
The temperature dropped. Black snowflakes drifted to the ground and clutched onto those it touched. Serilda was already heavily resistant to cold so it did not bother her, and with Xiuh’s equipment the wolf was equally unbothered, but the Voidmage was curious. A quick glance to her left told her that this was Arthas’ doing. The fingers of his free hand played in the air, coaxing a sudden chill like ice to settle in the area. The dark mages dropped to their knees, utterly incapacitated by the freezing cold mixed with the inability to breathe.
As they made their way through the lines, they knocked out anyone they could reach until everyone wearing a silver mask was down and out for the count. Those wearing gold masks, however, would prove to not be so easily put out of commission. Several of them were still able to stubbornly push past the lack of oxygen and tap into their magic. As she’d been briefed, many indeed had some kind of teleportation magic that allowed them to jump great distances in order to try and strike their enemies down. If they even managed to get close enough to strike her, many of their swords passed harmlessly right through her body. A few well placed strikes of her sword quickly put these speedy mages out of commission, as Moonlight drained their energy and left them bleeding and wanting for strength.
A deafening crack filled the air, and the ground at their feet split. Serilda slipped only for a moment before her flight kicked in. She reached with her free hand and caught Xiuhcoatl, gently directing the wolf back onto solid ground. Arthas levitated beside her as well, also able to fly it would seem. “Earth wizards,” he commented, sounding almost bored. He dropped down hard onto the ground, practically leaving a small crater in his wake, and from his feet ice quickly spread across the ground. Many of the dark wizards had to shift their focus on maintaining their traction, though a lot of them still fell on their asses. With another wave of his hand, ice grew up their feet and across their whole bodies, freezing them in place with only small holes left near their mouths and noses for them to breathe.
Serilda did not mean how easily Arthas had dispatched the gold masked wizards. He wasn’t even toying with them so much as establishing his utter dominance with a subtle calm that betrayed just how much he was truly holding back. This made Serilda all the more wary of him, but she would have to worry about it later.
Brightness caught her attention, and she looked down to her right. A behemoth of a man in fully golden armor pushed his way out from behind the other remaining members of the guild. Four equally golden wings unfurled from his back and he launched himself into the air before her. In his hands, he gripped a scimitar like she had, but it was much bigger and heavier -- to the point where the man had to hold it with both his hands.
“You’re getting real annoying, you self righteous bitch,” he told her, his voice muffled through the mask on his face. “We’re getting into that building to get what we came for, but first I think it’s time to take you down a peg.”
“You are certainly free to try,” Serilda retorted, silently tempering her own sword to give it some extra strength against a larger opponent. “But I think you’ll find that my resolve far outweighs yours. Besides, a man that walks around in a full suit of gold hardly has any right to imply that anyone else is arrogant.”
He came at her then. With a mighty cry he raised his sword up and brought it bearing down on her with a speed greater than she’d expected for a man of his bulk. Serilda got her sword up just in time, and was thankful that she’d taken the precaution to strengthen the weapon. In its normal state, it might very well have cracked from the force with which he brought it down. She knew immediately she was going to have to do something about that thing if she wanted to be the victor in this exchange.
Grunting with the effort, she parried him away from her and reset her guard. Pouring her magic through his armor and weapon, Serilda searched for any weak points of Void pockets that she could manipulate, and found the items surprisingly dense. If she wanted to crack his defenses, literally, she was going to have to give herself a little help. With her free hand she summoned a large stake of highly pressurized air and hurled it at him. It dented his armor, but did not break through it. “What the hell?” she whispered.
With a roar, he charged her again. She brought up her sword to block, managing to keep his own weapon from slicing her in two, but it did nothing to stop the momentum of how hard he hit her. His body slammed into hers, throwing them both back several meters. The next series of strikes were not good ones for her. The large man bore down on her again and again, barely giving her time to form any kind of attack as she had to focus almost entirely on staying defensive to keep her neck from being lobbed off her shoulders.
He got in several punches, leaving her face bleeding and swollen. Serilda grunted through the pain, soothing it as much as she could with the chilling effects of her magic, using her Forsaken Remedy spell to slow the pressure of her blood so not as much of it would expend itself from her body. She needed to get on the offensive if she wanted to win this, and fast. Summoning a whirlwind beneath him by violently rotating the particles of Void in the air around him, she managed to tie him up long enough to create some space between them. By the time he managed to free himself from the mini tornado, she had already created another spike of highly pressurized air and launched it at the exact same spot as before. It dented the armor further, causing a small crack to appear.
But a small crack was all she needed. The molecules of the armor were in disarray, now, and there were more Void pockets in it than before. Shoving her magic violently into his golden casing and expanding it, his armor exploded off his body. With it, his wings disappeared. He fell to the ground, and Serilda soared after him, but he wasn’t done just yet. Before he could even hit the ground, the air around him shimmered and a new set of golden armor sheathed his body. It looked almost exactly the same as the last set, if a bit more sleek. And it still didn’t have wings, it seemed.
He met her sword in the air with her own and twisted until he was on top of her, his weight dragging her down to the ground with him. They slammed into the iced cobblestone with a thunderous clap that rocked the city for a solid mile, leaving a massive dent in the ground. He lifted his sword triumphantly to impale the woman he believed to be pinned beneath her, only to find she wasn’t there. Her body had fallen right through the ground, rather than making contact with it.
She burst right back out from underneath him with a furious cry, the tip of her scimitar gouging right between the grooves of his armor to find flesh. The man snarled in pain, grabbed her sword by the blade and pulled it out. Then, he threw it -- and by extension, her -- to the side. Once more he slammed his weapon down after her. She wasn’t able to get out of the way in time, her magic’s natural defense mechanisms kicking in and letting the sword pass through her where it hit the ground hard enough to crack it. It was time for that sword to go.
This time, she was the one to grab his weapon. Serilda didn’t need to touch it to perform this spell, but the contact would help her read its molecular makeup more clearly. The scimitar shattered in both their hands, useless bits of gold and metal dropping to their feet. The man growled with rage and indignation. Seeing her chance to strike, her own scimitar snaked out to try and strike him.
Unfortunately, his requip magic included weapons as well as armor. Her attack was parried by a katana that appeared in his grip, though he wasn’t able to summon it quickly enough to direct her strike completely away from him. The tip of her scimitar slipped beneath his mask and flicked it off his face. In any other setting, Serilda might have considered the man quite handsome -- even with the large, rugged scar that stretched up from his neck to his cheek. But the sneer that warped his facial features made him ugly.
Once more they battled sword to sword, the bigger man still proving himself the physically stronger opponent. She needed to be quicker than him. It was the only way. She needed to outsmart him, because she certainly wasn’t going to win this in a contest of muscle.
As if he’d read her mind, he pulled one of his arms back and backhanded her across the face, sending her rolling along the ground several dozen meters. Despite her training and discipline, her scimitar got wrenched from her hand in the process. This wasn’t a terrible concern -- she could easily use her magic to pull it back to her -- but it certainly wasn’t good. He was already bearing down on her and she would not be able to get her sword back in her hand quick enough to deflect his attack.
“Void Step!” Serilda boosted her speed, throwing herself out of the way and scrambling to her feet. With one hand she reached out and pulled her sword back, with the other she summoned all the small bits that were left over from his shattered scimitar and threw them at him. The pieces whipped violently around his face, cutting his flesh to ribbons and embedding themselves in his eyes. He screamed and clawed at his face, digging the pieces out as best he could, dropping his katana in the process. Now was her only chance.
With a cry, she swung her sword again and again, strategically placing her strikes in places to wound him but not cause lethal damage. All she needed to do was keep hitting him with her sword and eventually he would be too drained of energy to fight. His armor clattered to pieces around him and he fell to his knees. Every part of him was dripping with blood from numerous shallow cuts. Using the pommel of her sword, she delivered one final blow to the side of his face and he fell over, slipping into unconsciousness.
A few hours later, all the members of the Masked Guild had been rounded up and arrested by the Knights. Not a single one of them had managed to get past Serilda, Xiuhcoatl, and Arthas -- the latter two of which had dominated the ground battle while Serilda had been preoccupied with the leader in the air. She had received some minor healing from one of the Knights that had such abilities, and stuck around until she was certain that everything was taken care of. After that, she thanked the Knights profusely for their assistance and dismissed them to their own business.
Soon enough, she found herself alone with Arthas once more. All the Knights left, and she declined a ride saying that she would simply fly herself home for the night as her parents’ house was not too far from their current location. Once everyone else was gone, Serilda turned to the man. She wanted to demand that he get to fulfilling his word from earlier, but her honor made her stop herself -- though it wasn’t easy. “Thank you for your assistance,” she told him. There was a begrudging hint to her tone, but she was being sincere, and he seemed to understand that.
“You’re quite welcome. It was my pleasure.” He answered kindly, but she could tell he was also aware of her turmoil regarding the gratitude and that he was highly entertained by it.
“You promised me answers.”
Arthas nodded. “I did, and you shall have them.” He leaned casually against the wall of the building nearest them. “You wanted to know why I’m really following you around, and the answer to that is because you had a certain… spark that attracted my attention. I wanted to see how deep your potential went, and I can see now that it’s quite vast. Deeper, even, than I think you realize.”
Serilda narrowed her eyes at him. “Potential for what?”
He smiled. “I have a job opening, of sorts. It requires the talents of someone with remarkable drive and focus.” The way he articulated his words made it clear to her that he was beating around the bush a bit, leaving certain things unsaid. “You’re not quite ready for it yet, but you will be. When that time comes, I would like you to come work for me.”
“I’m sorry, but you don’t strike me as the type of man I’d be interested in working with.”
Once again, his expression took on a malicious calm that set her on edge. “Oh, I know I’m not. In fact, the more time you spend with me the more I am certain you will grow to hate me.”
She frowned at him suspiciously. “Then why would you possibly think I would agree to working with you?”
“Because,” he said, standing himself back up and walking slowly over to her. His voice dropped to a low whisper, and Serilda couldn’t help but back up a few steps in uncertainty to try and keep him away from her. Instead, she hit the wall of the other building behind her. Arthas got very close to her, his face only a few inches from her own as he leaned down to look her directly in the eyes. He was near enough that she could feel his breath on her, making her all the more uncomfortable as she tried to quell the panic that was quickly surging inside of her. Serilda did her best to muster up a defiant look, refusing to avert her gaze, but she was sure he knew that he was scaring her in that moment.
“One day, you’re going to need the power that I am offering you. How soon you will need it, I can’t say… but my intuition tells me it won’t be too much longer. You’re almost ready, you just need a little extra… push in the right direction.” He reached up with a hand and brushed her bangs behind her ear. “When that time comes, I won’t need to make you my offer. You will come to me.”
Finding a sudden surge of control, she slapped his hand away and pulled out her sword again, brandishing it at him. He shrank from it slightly as he had before -- though he didn’t back away. “Never going to happen, demon, so how about you just leave me alone from here on out,” Serilda whispered back to him, her voice somehow not betraying the fact that she was screaming in terror on the inside. Truthfully, she wasn’t sure that he actually was a demon. All she knew was that he seemed a bit wary of the one holy item she had on her, so he had to be of some kind of dark or demonic origins.
What made her feel sick to her stomach was the fact that he didn’t even deny it. If anything, his smirk grew as a sort of silent confirmation of her accusation. “Oh, trust me. It will happen, Serilda Sinclair. Someday soon, I do believe that you’re going to need me, and when you seek me out it will be my absolute pleasure to do business with you.” Arthas pulled back slowly then, turning his back to her as he put his hands in his pockets and started walking away. “In the meantime, I will do as you request and leave you alone. I know what I want, and I am an incredibly patient man -- I will wait. And when you’re ready… you just call for me.”
He tossed her a final, dark smirk before he disappeared.