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You can't let him stop you, Mel. You can't let him win.
Melfina stands in her deep blue silk dress. She wanted to feel somber, yet dignified.
The West Luna Guard is fanned out before her. Stark, Bear, Stone, and Alan were stolid pillars in their full plate, with the rest more lightly armored, but still impressive. Dark green cloaks rest on their shoulders, clasped with the westward arrow dividing moon and gold that was Lord of West Luna's symbol.
Lord Luna sits atop his nightmare as smoke puffs through its nostrils. The large white mound of fur on the ground was a recently tamed polar bear, ready for its master's commands.
They look confident. They look ready. Stark had lined them up, and made a beautiful speech. She had seen them train, and their training had proved itself. A force of equal size would be no match.
But it won't be equal.
She and Stark still didn't talk much, but he was here. He was here ready to face the city that had saved him. The reasons for their distance seem stupid now. He was here and that was enough. They were all here for her.
Melfina felt the bulk in her bag. Two books. The Tome of Lost Knowledge, and the other. She had bought it over a year ago. A nervous merchant had approached her at the bank. The slight desperation in his voice peaked her curiosity. He insisted they go to his room at the inn. That was a bit too suspicious for her, but she agreed to pay for her own room. She made him go in first and place the bed between them before she went in. Only after she had pre-cast paralyze did she let him open his bag.
It was a necro book. A special necro book. The Ossian Grimoire.
Just as rare as the Tome of Lost Knowledge, but with a much darker past. All necromancers come from Umbra now, but the Grimoire was the reason Umbra came to be.
The Ossian Cult formed at the end of the golden age, when the nation of Britain ruled almost all of Sosaria. A new form of magic was discovered, and a race of discovery began. Before too long, several people rose to prominence and their followings grew.
Ossian was the most vile. He conducted horrific experiments in the name of research. The Defenders of Light were the first to denounce his practices and the new magic as a whole, and eventually the Council of Mages agreed. Soon riots broke out, and then open war.
Ossian seized control of all the unholy mages, now called necromancers, and Lord British was killed. The paladins fought to keep the world from falling apart entirely. The necromancers couldn't be eliminated, but they were contained within the borders of what is now Umbra.
That's what history taught her when she was little, and she knew what the merchant held. He knew what it was as well, and it was forbidden. He sold it cheap, simply relieved to be rid of it. She understood. She took it home and didn't just place it in the locked chest beneath her bed, but underneath the floorboards it rested on.
And that's where it stayed, until last night.
Hidden as it was, Darksage could still sense it. Necromancy was no longer forbidden, and it was a powerful book in its own right, so it was time to come out. Just in case.
Although a powerful book didn't make her better spellcaster. She could summon Darksage to her side, but she didn't think one wolf would make a difference. It was better to stick to the Tome and use energy bolts and flamestrikes or attempt an energy vortex. Using magery also wouldn't risk testing Stark's resolve about defending a necromancer.
But the battle with Darksage had at least given her confidence. He had helped pull her out of despair. She was ready to face whatever came, and if it looked like there was no chance for Lord Luna and Stark to win, she would give up the Tome. She would choose to give it up to save their lives, and not lose it because she was forced to give in. It was a small difference, but it would have to be enough.
A gateway materializes.
This is it.
The guards place hands on sword hilts. Edwin moves into position with arrows ready to nock. Lord Luna urges his nightmare forward, bow attached to his saddle.
One by one the Luna Guard steps through, lining up opposite Stark and his guards. Forty of them! Eventually, two captains step through, followed by the high father and Aedilwulf himself, both in dazzling white.
Stark drops to one knee. What are you doing! She missed the reaction of the other guards, but a close look at their faces shows no reaction. Maybe he prepared them for that.
Lord Luna dismounts, and approaches the archduke and Wayland, with Stark following.
"Good day to you," says Aedilwulf.
"And you as well," replies Lord Luna.
"You look well, Lord of West Luna. I believe you've met my son, Theowulf."
Lord Luna turns. "Congratulations on making captain."
"Thank you," replies Theowulf.
"Now we have business to take care of," says Aedilwulf
"Your scribe has a valuable text that belongs to Luna. We will forgo any punishment, as long as she hands over the book."
"The book is hers, bought with her own gold."
"That is ridiculous. Can she provide proof? The name of the vendor who sold it perhaps?"
"The vendors would not recognize it. The cover that wrapped it has since been destroyed."
"Then there is no proof it is hers."
"We have her word. It is enough."
"No. It is enough to know there was only one copy," counters Aedilwulf.
"A copy that was destroyed in the war."
"Or merely damaged and obviously restored. We demand our property."
"The Tome is not yours to demand."
Wayland turns to face the paladin, "Stark, my son, it is time you returned to your rightful home. Retrieve the Tome so there need not be any bloodshed."
"I cannot, Father."
"And will you refuse an order from me as well?" asks Aedilwulf.
"I will follow every order, your eminence. When they apply. This is a matter for the Guard, not the Order. The Book of Procedure requires I remain true to my duties as guard captain of West Luna."
"Very well." Aedilwulf's focus returns to Lord Luna. "One last chance. Give us the book."
"We will not. You are on my land, and here my laws apply. You will leave now or I will have you removed."
"Very well, Lord of West Luna, you are harboring a criminal and all who defend her will be executed." Aedilwulf turns to go.
Wayland speaks up, "Wait. Perhaps we can compromise."
Lord Luna pauses. "Go on."
"It is clear that neither side will convince the other with words. You want to believe in your... citizen... and we believe there was only one Tome of Lost Knowledge in existence."
Lord Luna waits.
"I propose a duel. This matter is between me and my former pupil. A duel to submission and not to the death. No one will have to die."
"You are on my land. My rule is law. I canno-"
"I accept!" yells Melfina. This is the best she could hope for.
Lord Luna studies the scribe then says, "Very well. Agreed."
"Agreed," says the archduke.
The guards on both sides back away.
She didn't think it would happen, but she prepared for this. She would teleport behind him first, and then cast flamestrike. He could cast spells faster than she could, so she needed to strike first, and strike hard with the Tome.
"Stark, standby to heal," commands Lord Luna.
Wayland holds out a scroll, and Theowulf steps forward. "He will cast the wall of stone." Wayland had prepared for this as well.
Dark green cloaks stand opposite the white. The scribe and the Tome of Lost Knowledge against the high father with the Tome of Enlightenment.
Theowulf uses the scroll, and a wall appears. It would last only a few moments, and then the duel would begin.
Melfina pre-casts teleport. She couldn't see beyond the wall, but knew Wayland was pre-casting something as well.
The wall vanishes, and so does she. Lightning strikes where she had stood. Melfina appears behind him and begins her flamestrike. Wayland begins his own.
As long as she finishes first, he wouldn't be able to ignore the power of her spells at this distance. It would be close, but she knew she would make it. I win!
"Kal vas flam!"
Fire leaps from her hand as her mind readies the next spell. But instead of Wayland reeling from the blow, the fire reflects back onto Melfina. Wayland completes his own spell and she is thrown off her feet. Two energy bolts follow, then lightning, and the duel is over.
She had lost.
Wayland looks down on her. A touch of sadness in his eyes. "You weren't meant for this. It belongs with me."
Wayland reaches for her Tome, but she teleports away.
"Come now, Melfina. We had an agreement." She let's him take the Tome of Lost Knowledge from her hands.
Magic reflection. He didn't have time to pre-cast both it and lightning from behind the wall. He had it cast before he stepped through the gateway.
"I'm sorry you lost," says Stark as he heals her burns with his invocation.
He outsmarted her. She had tried, and she had lost. At least she had the Grimoire. At least she had that. Darksage could help provide strength to her. It was over now, so it didn't matter who saw.
"Kal xen bal."
From within the cloud of smoke, Darksage howls.
"She's attacking!" shouts Theowulf. He rushes forward, and the rest follow.
"No!" Melfina's protests fall on deaf ears.
Edwin and Lord Luna rain arrows on the approaching guards. The polar bear's attack holds a dozen men at bay. Bear leads the rest and swords clash.
Somehow she messed things up again. There was nothing left to do but fight. She sets her sights on Theowulf, but Stark reaches him first.
Swords ring out and Stark knocks Theowulf back. Stark moves to attack, but halts mid-step.
"No!" One look confirms Wayland was responsible.
Theowulf moves in to strike, but Darksage leaps to defend the paladin. The Luna captain manages to avoid the lunge.
"In bal nox!" A noxious gas strikes Wayland and constricts his throat. Let's see you cast spells now!
Darksage howls again. No, he was staring down Theowulf. The howl was from another wolf. Other wolves. She looks behind her and more than thirty wolves charge towards the battlefield.
"Form up!" yells Theowulf.
The Luna Guard regroups and the West Luna Guard does the same.
The wolves line up with Darksage, walling Melfina away from her enemies, crouched and ready to strike.
Aedilwulf looks from the high father, back to the wolves, then to the Grimoire in Melfina's hands. "She's a necromancer!"
"We can still take them! They're just wolves!" replies his son.
"No. Stand down."
"No!" he commands. "You should have advised me better, Wayland."
"I did not know," he gasps.
"Now! Leave the book Wayland. We will not risk breaking the truce."
Theowulf charges despite his father's command, but the high father casts another paralyze, with Theowulf as the target. Wayland makes a gateway, and one by one the threat from Luna was no more.
That's it? "What just happened?" asks Melfina. That can't be it.
Lord Luna nods in understanding. "The Reunification is coming."
* * *
Day and night intertwined, and all was well. Yet one must always give way to the other, and the peace must shatter. And as day crumbles and falls, the moon will rise.
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