The Book of the Fallen (sequel to Lord of Night) | Chapter Twenty-Six
Posted April 8th, 2018 by maxi
in Erissa, Erilea, Westeros, The New York Institute, Roshar, Scadrial, New Chicago, Eye of the World, Metallica and Questeria
A/N: With the storyline with Queen Danailys, I've decided that I'm going to have more of it implemented into Death's Reign so that I can fully explore her character. All of the characters, well most of them, that are seen in the books will come into the Battle of the End so that's where she'll end up and her resolution will be shown as well as if she ties up things with Arnaressa or not.
Within two days of spending nights at rather vulgar inns and backwater alleys, Queen Arnaressa and Sir Arkyll had made it to the mammoth that was the Eaduanian Kingdom. The mountain of a kingdom sat aloft the most-inner layer of the actual empire, the kingdom’s cities and towns lurking beneath like the monarchy was its looming shadow. As soon as they’d made it to the layer, Arnaressa could see the mountains far beyond. Villages, dotted with firelight now that stars speckled the midnight skies, bloomed with people and the nearby braying of donkeys. Everything was alive—throbbing.
Arnaressa kept the uncompromising will in her eyes as she stalked towards the entrance of the main kingdom: a cobblestone archway, painted the most beautiful of white—like a gold-laced cream colour. Upon seeing it, her mouth agape, the queen was bedazzled by the sight.
Within was a garden to each side, both an expanse of green grass, poppies, petunias, sunflowers and every other assortment she could possibly imagine. Underfoot lay a flagstone path leading to the monolith of the main court.
Most of the buildings connected to the main tower were dome-shaped then finished off with a spire pointing skyward. Arnaressa glanced at these in wonderment, Arkyll doing the same by her side. The buildings reached higher and higher into the sky, seeming to point at the billowing clouds up above.
She stalked towards the first room that came into her view: the main hall, the Throne Hall of the Eaduanian Kingdom. The queen took her precious, precious time as she took to the stairs. One. By One.
Far at the end of the Throne Hall, sitting atop a dazzling throne—which itself sat atop a dais—bejewelled with many contours and swishes and flourishes of coloured rubies and emeralds… There sat Empress Danailys Gramsion, the Rightful Heir to the Throne.
But not its rightful ruler. That name, that title, belonged to Arnaressa.
And, as she prowled closer to her cousin, she saw darkness flash in that dark eye—the same colour she had. As if she knew it belonged to Arnaressa, too.
Not too long after, she was kneeling before the empress and keeping a tight leash on her temper. Before she could haul herself at the woman and claw deep into her throat for all the sins she’d committed, a voice lingered through the throne hall.
A regal voice.
“Rise,” Danailys announced, a smirk on her bloodred lips.
Danailys had always been beautiful—except for the scar across her face that left one of her eyes dislodged from its socket. The mystery of this still remained—along with the remnants of her beauty. Unlike Arnaressa’s blonde, she had raven-black hair that was now left uncoiled. Her pouting, red lips curved into a smile as her petite form rose from its seat on the throne.
If Arnaressa had been angered before, this was a whole new territory of temperament.
Danailys did not move. Did not move as Arnaressa and Arkyll came forward. Did not move as, assessing their movement, the four guards on either side of the empress advanced—swords ready to be unsheathed.
She only moved when she lifted a hand, dismissing the blades of her four handy soldiers. Bloodlust still rippled in their eyes, but died down mercifully.
The queen and her knight stopped at the edge of the dais, their eyes on Danailys’s.
“I found your arrival surprising, at the very least,” Danailys said. “But do not worry. My men will have your chambers ready. Perhaps then we can have a discussion about your… plans.”
Oh, Arnaressa didn’t think she’d be sharing her plans with Danailys any time soon. Especially not with the shadow of war lurking over their heads.
“The throne suits you, cousin,” Arnaressa replied, a taunt in her voice that she hoped the empress’s men didn’t identify as a threat. “I’m sure it has been handy to you in the few months I’ve been away.”
“Arnaressa, these past few months have been a maelstrom of events for both me and mine. Your antics—revealing Althulor’s true name, your attempt to capture Prince Farighan—all of these suggest that your magic has been sorted out as wild. Untamed. I would advise you to make sure it’s Stagnant, but that would be too harsh.”
She gulped. Danailys either truly didn’t know what she was up against… or knew more about Arnaressa’s magic than she did.
“My antics have been pleasurable enough to me that I’ve found myself in your company and intend to do something about it,” she responded, lifting her head as if that would change her tone.
“Oh?” Danailys said. “And what is this you plan to do? Kill me? Claim the throne for yourself? What with your magic being left wild, your Allegiance in scatters and war on the horizon, I doubt ruling an empire would lift the burden from your shoulders.”
The rage, the vehemence that coursed through the queen’s veins… It made her want to act, to poise to devour the world. But she let it go, let it drift away until silence fell inside the throne hall.
Unsurprisingly, no other ladies or men of the court entered the hall as they talked. Arnaressa had no doubt Danailys didn’t want them overhearing their conversation.
“I have no plans for murder.” Yet. But, if Danailys got on her edge, if she crossed one more step past the demarcation line of Arnaressa’s anger… The queen was going to have to reclaim her throne somehow and, if murder was the only way, then so be it.
“Mmmm,” her cousin mumbled. Something dark, ancient and full of power flickered in her eyes. Arnaressa knew it as her own birthright—the family of Gramsion, the one she’d grown up with. The one that had been through the gruelling, harrowing memories of killing and slaughtering all those who came near.
Ever since she’d left her kingdom for the mainlands, war had torn the mainlands apart. And, if that violence came anywhere near Eaduan, then Arnaressa had no doubt Danailys would make sure anyone in her way was killed. She’d slain people before and she would do it again. With a slash of her wicked blade, she would down anyone who threatened her bloodline.
The kingdom had been one of peace and prosperity for over a hundred generations. Since the dawn of time, the family had prospered. Danailys taking one step out of line would be the first step in assuring hell on earth for all the Eaduanians. Arnaressa wasn’t sure if she could take a single moment of that brutality once it came.
“Yandu,” Danailys addressed one of the guards on the left side of her throne.
In response, the guard straightened, his light armour glistening as he said, “Yes, Your Majesty?”
“Take my cousin and her… friend”—Arkyll winced as he took the blow of the insult straight to his stomach; Arnaressa seethed—“to their chambers. Make sure they find everything accessible and to their needs. I wouldn’t want my cousin dissatisfied with her stay.”
Gods be damned, how Arnaressa wanted to shred her fingernails into Danailys. If only so that the young queen could get a taste of the magic roiling underneath her skin.
She lifted her head to Yandu as the guard followed them out of the throne hall, her cousin’s light chuckled tickling down her spine as she exited the room.
As Arkyll strode out of the throne hall with Arnaressa by his side and Yandu ahead of them, the queen began to contemplate how exactly they had gotten into this state.
Arnaressa still hadn’t gotten a heavy amount of information from Danailys: who, exactly, she was; what she intended to do for the kingdom; and if she was truly capable of conquering a nation. Judging by the malice and insidiousness looming in that hall, Arnaressa could already taste the answer of the last question on her tongue.
The castle hallways they strode through—twisting and turning—had arched windows peeking in between each stone pillar that reached high above their heads. On the other side lay numerous wooden doors, supposedly locked. Between each of the doors was a grand tapestry of the symbol of Gramsion flapping about in the night breeze.
The arched windows to their left looked out to the dark expanse of the city. Orbs of shuddering firelight bobbed as guards, soldiers, foot soldiers and shield-bearers jostled along and through Eaduan.
“How long have you been serving the Queen Danailys of Eaduan?” she asked Yandu, a dark-skinned man with similarly dark eyes. He wasn’t bald, but had his hair shaved off. No facial hair remained on his face. As a guard, he had a muscular build.
Yandu merely studied her, only briefly, before he answered, “A month now. She recruited me. I was in the Gold Battalion and, for my gifted skills in battle, she hired me as one of her top-ranking guards.”
“I’ve served my queen for half a year,” Arkyll said. However, there was no bragging in the retort. Only a warning. “Don’t ever think that trust can be learned that easily.”
Yandu narrowed his brow, clenched his fists by his side. “My queen has given me the strength and cunning I need in order to defeat my enemies. If anyone came to attack me…”
Arkyll could sense an accent in Yandu’s voice. It swirled and undulated like desert dunes, a purr that came off lovely on his foreign tongue. He wondered if his accent did joys to Danailys—and then hated himself for thinking such obscene things.
She scoffed. “The queen has about much power and strength herself as the nearest pig-boy. Don’t be frightened of her, don’t ever think that she has made you into some full-blooded warrior. She’s scared herself.”
“Don’t sway me from my position,” Yandu demanded, his tone commanding and authoritative.
But the queen held more power over him. She had commanded armies for a good enough amount of years that she knew what she was capable of. This magic coiling inside of her like a viper… ready to pounce.
And Arkyll knew it too, he realised.
“I am in a position to do so.” She sneered at the guard, his own eyes squinting at her before turning his sight back to the front of him. “And I expect you to pay more attention to your surroundings. If the queen was clever enough, she’d know there was a threat hanging over our heads.”
Amongst them, Arkyll saw servants, scullery maids, mistresses and soldiers running about on their nightly duties. No doubt they were obeying under the steel hand of the queen herself. Well, he was thankful that he had another queen by his side. One that would never leave him. And one that he could trust.
He watched the city throb, breathe and pulse once more. Street vendors were closing up for the night and letting carnivals, traditional festivals and travelling nomads take up their position. It was a glorious night—and even more glorious underneath the light of a thousand stars.
The beauty and radiance was interjected by Yandu, who replied to Arnaressa, “Danailys knows of the threat. Everyone knows of the war with Althulor. It’s coming any day now.”
Arkyll cocked his head. “I believe my queen speaks of other threats. One that will poise to devour all worlds.”
Arnaressa nodded, her eyes glistening with questions and answers all the same. “I can feel something. Not just in my magic, but in the air. My dear guard, you’ve prayed to the gods before, yes?”
“Of course,” Yandu grunted, as if not believing he was having this conversation with a queen that was not his own.
“Then pray to them once more. Because something awful and dreadful is coming. And I suspect it will not leave us alone.”
Arnaressa was thankful that they’d reached their chambers. The labyrinth of hallways had gotten too difficult for her to track their distance back to the throne hall. She glanced at the door once, noticed that it was unlocked, and pushed it open.
As Yandu walked away and bid them farewell, Arnaressa took in the room. It wasn’t as simple as she’d been expecting. Of course, she had thought it would seem different—seeing as she had lived in the kingdom for most of her life. And yet, it was completely different. It was otherworldly. Elegant.
On her left was a four-poster bed, where a nearby window was open to the courtyard looming in the very heart of the empire. On her right were mountains of books in an old, ancient bookshelf. Before the bookshelf was a desk upon which was a writing pad and a glass pen. Both had been seemingly unused by the last occupants of the room. Gossamer curtains swayed in that jasmine-laced night breeze, lemon verbena on the wintry air.
She smelled it—that scent, that glistening power raging inside the castle. And felt it sink deep into the clutches of her heart.
Home. She was home.
Arnaressa donned no doubts that Arkyll was feeling the same happiness as she—while he settled into his own room, a room that would be similar to her own.
Although horror and dread had crept into her bedsheets every night for the past few months, there had always been the feeling. The feeling that everything would turn all right. And, from that feeling, blossomed hope.
Breathing in the scent of the night, Arnaressa slunk over to the bed and flopped onto the duvet. Her body, almost encased in the warm and silken material, shifted into it—creating its own form.
A million thoughts pounded through her brain, each one of them searching for answers. Her mind’s eye widened as she took them all in, blurry, shadowy dark things of monstrous power.
However, she was not ready for them. Perhaps in the morning she would be. Perhaps in the morning she’d stumble through the hallways, find Arkyll and dig for any clues to the answers she needed.
But, for now…
Sleep claimed her, swift and deep.
Sir Arkyll was fashionably content with the morning. As he and Arnaressa rode out of the Eaduanian Kingdom on horseback, the shadow of the castle buildings far behind them, a warmth tugged into his chest, filling his heart and all that encompassed it.
Yes, he was very much shocked at his content behaviour. And he was also very much shocked at the way Danailys had so swiftly, so easily given them access to the entire empire—the entire island. At these words, Arkyll immediately thought he’d fallen into a trap. He still did, and so, he kept a tight clutch on the hawk-shaped pommel of his mighty warrior’s sword as they rode through the forest they’d come through to enter the kingdom.
To be truthful, he did not find this forest as fathomably evergreen as the one near the Darklands Kingdom. Salvangela Forest was much opaquer while this forest… This one had secrets, secrets that embraced any sort of diakaol.
Beside him, the queen looked around as if in a daze. He truly had no idea how lucky he’d gotten to serve by her side. No, he was not the most faithful of men—at least not around his companions in the Allegiance. But Arnaressa… She always thought the best of him. When he degraded himself, she always thought he was capable.
Of everything. Of anything.
Everyone has flaws. That was not was she realised. Not what she had gathered from countless battles. Everyone has their differences and their opinions and their stories. It’s just up to me to sort out where I fit in.
That kiss in the valley. She—nor he—had mentioned it. In fact, his face went bloodred just thinking about the warmth of her mouth, his tongue dry against the northern winds. He’d be a traitor to ever think of his queen like that once more and yet… And yet he’d taken her, or she’d taken him, and they’d kissed. They’d embraced each other like letting go was a curse and would doom them for all eternity.
A tear threatened to roll down his cheek and he told himself it was from the blustery cold, but he knew that he was lying to himself. That he could not give her the same affection.
For how could a knight love his own queen?
“That woman,” she breathed, her white piebald mare snorting beneath her. “She aggravates me, Arkyll. I don’t know what she’s up to…but, after we get this army of ours, we’ve got to do something about her.”
“I do not plan to murder,” he reminded her. Reminded her of her own words.
“I know,” Arnaressa admitted. “I know. But I’ve killed many people in my lifetime. I will continue to do so as long as enemies keep threatening my existence. She is my rival, you see. She is my enemy and I think one of those as a contender to my throne… It’s going to do more evil than good.”
The forest became still—not silent but still as they traipsed through it, over stone and moss and leaf. The fluttering of birds high up above and the distant calling of villagers became imminent.
“Whatever she has in plan, I’m not sure,” she went on, setting her gaze on the endless swath of homes and fields beyond the forest. Beyond the green.
“I hope you don’t find a way to turn this folly, Arnaressa.” She could tell—from his voice, from the way he looked at her—that he was truly worried. Sitting atop his horse, he was truly panicking for her.
She kept her gaze lingering forward, though. Because behind her was a kingdom that would not thrive without a rightful queen on the throne. Behind her was a monarchy of darkness and impoverishment. Something that had not been seen in the light of day.
“Turning this plan of mine folly would result in too many deaths,” she said simply. “And, for the life of me, I’m not letting that happen while I’m still alive.”
He shook his head, letting out a long breath into the wintry morning air. The moon shuddered light down upon him, like a cascading of glitter. The crunch of crisp leaves beneath horseshoes melted into the air, as well as the birdsong that glided across the gusty winds.
“She’s got a reputation for cruelty, that woman,” he grunted. Fear shone in Arkyll’s eyes, she realised, as Arnaressa came up closer to him.
And what he said was true. She’d heard stories, legends, fables of Danailys. The woman was only in her twenties or so—Arnaressa couldn’t quite remember—and she had already made the dark side of the moon seem less powerful than herself.
Arnaressa pondered what could be so ill-fated about the woman that she’d built up this reputation like she had with her own kingdom. Gulping, she took the thoughts away from her mind, never to be touched again. Or, at least, until they would become of great importance. She mightn’t need it for the journey to the local villages…
But she would once she confronted her cousin again.
By respect of her knight, Arkyll had suggested they roam the villages just outside the kingdom to investigate on what her cousin had been up to these past few months. And, sure enough, Arnaressa had agreed. Perhaps spying on the newfound queen’s doings could expose that reputation to her people—and sway their opinions.
As they approached the nearest city to the kingdom, exiting the forest in a flurry of motion, Arnaressa came to appreciate its view.
They passed through the mountainous brick wall that surrounded the city. There were no gates, as anyone without support to the Eaduanian throne would immediately be taken down. No foreigners—no refugees. Arnaressa wished to change that.
Within, to her left, was a stable where both she and Arkyll placed their horses in. The stable hands were somewhat infuriated with the state of the horses, as they had leaves and dust covering their hinds, but the queen paid them no more attention than necessary as she continued forth. Into the colourful labyrinth of mix-matched houses, streamers, partygoers, inns and taverns bedecking the city.
Even in daylight, people were cheering. For what, the city didn’t let on. All she saw was celebrations, the high stacks of houses and apartments looming overhead. No storm clouds roiled up above, only pure cerulean blue skies.
The queen lifted an eyebrow.
This wasn’t right. Wasn’t the same way she’d seen Naritha last time.
Then again, the last time she’d actually visited the city was many months ago, so it didn’t matter what she thought. This was the city now. This was… different. Unique.
And she didn’t like it. Not one bit because while these people were celebrating gods-knew-what, others were starving and desperate for coinage. Desperate for life, clutching onto the fingers of All as they realised the doom upon them.
Life in their hands, Death in their hearts.
A grim look passed over her face as she stalked through the ever-winding streets of Naritha, colour and light emerging out of every corner she passed. A man even jumped at her, asking if she wanted her thoughts read.
Without a word, she passed by him, the knight by her side. She clicked her tongue at what she saw, at the clothing hanging on a line of string up above. At the people shouting from one house to another.
Although she knew the world needed happiness, needed redemption, were they not aware of the threat lurking? Of the creatures poised to devour the world?
“What’s wrong, Your Majesty?” Arkyll asked, stepping in pace with her.
“This.” She gestured to the city around her. “This is all wrong. Everyone’s oblivious. Oblivious to what’s happening around them. Danailys does not have any semblance of control over her people whatsoever.”
“I think they’re happy, Arnaressa.”
The Queen of Gramsion knew that. She could see it in their eyes, flickers of golden light—and not from the sun—shining within orbs of emotion.
But, as she passed through the town, her black cloak flapping behind her like raven’s wings, her glistening steel-scaled armour over her tunic and pants… She came to realise what was behind the rough-hewn smiles and the flowers thrown in the air.
In every land she’d come across, there was a darkness that could not easily be replaced by bliss. And Naritha was suffering it the most.
“Follow me,” she said.
By some unfathomable force, she found herself walking towards an inn nearby that could supply her with some answers. The inn’s owner, Tesla, had been friends with her long before the woman had been in her court. Of course, after Danailys had taken the throne, Tesla had been reduced back to wiping bars and serving ale.
She only hoped Tesla would remember her.
Remember the fragment of the queen she used to be.
Arnaressa watched as the inn’s sign flapped about in the midmorning breeze. The chill ensconced her as she wrapped the folds of her cloak around her, but no warmth traipsed through her bones.
THE EEL AND THE SNAKE, the sign read. It held a depiction of two snakes wrapping around each other, devouring each ends of one another. However, there was no eel in sight. The ends of the sign were rustier, more corroded than the last time Arnaressa had been here.
Ignoring the maelstrom of noise and movement behind her, she strode through the doorway. Her boots echoed against the wooden floorboards beneath. The inn was silent, a cryptic sort of silence.
Everywhere the queen looked, there was some sort of rivalry going on. Whether it be a billiards game, pool, axe-throwing or rather, someone was grimacing at their competitor or giving somewhat judgmental looks. All of it was some sort of ruse, however—none of this could possibly be serious. The thatched roof above hung steadily and, to Arnaressa’s right, the barkeep swept down the bench in front of him with a clean, water-drenched rag. Someone sat at the bar, conversing with him languidly.
The queen sighed as she took a seat at a nearby table, wholly unpleased with the wellbeing of her city, her land and her people.
This is what I’ve come back to? she thought. It’s worse than the pigsty of a land I just left.
She cringed beneath her cowl, shadows encompassing her face as she took a glance around the inn. Schemes and plots flooded her mind, but none related to the mission of figuring out her cousin’s plans became prominent.
“I’m not in an position to not trust you, Arnaressa,” Arkyll started, “but whatever you’re up to, it won’t be good.”
She rolled her eyes. “An inn will give us enough information about Danailys as to assess her duties and roles in the kingdom. We need to do whatever we can to get back to the Allegiance—but stronger than before.”
“How strong will we be with an untrustworthy queen on your throne?”
A smirk lifted Arnaressa’s lips upward. “Exactly. What we could do is force her title to be abdicated, as well as her regal position in the hierarchy.”
“Abdication?” Arkyll hissed through his teeth, anger seemingly uncoiling from beneath him. “That’ll start a battle. A war. Don’t we have enough of those going around? Unbelievable.”
The queen’s eyes widened as she said, “Keep your voice down. I’m not going to have you by my side if you constantly expose our plans to the rest of this inn. By the gods, they could actually follow Danailys and have her know of what we plan to do.”
He scowled back at her. “Plans, plans, plans. Perhaps it’s yours, but I’m not going to be following or supporting it if it ends us up in danger. Knee-deep in danger. Being here, being in your land, is clearly the worst idea you’ve ever had and yet we’re following through with it. We will end up dead.”
“We’ll end up dead either way,” she said, eliciting a small sigh from Arkyll. “Whether from a sword’s edge or by the words we speak to the new queen. Can’t you just understand what I am suggesting, knight?”
Knight. She regretted it, regretted using his formal title, ever since the word slipped from her mouth like a fool’s idea. Arnaressa pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth as she faced him, an apologetic look on her face.
And yet, he did not let the look sink in. He merely continued, “What you suggest is not going to help the future of our kingdom. Whether or not I let that happen, it’s not going to occur this way. But, then again, we have a war approaching us. As dutiful as it will be, it will be more chaos—more madness—than what you imply. Therefore, I’ll have to stand by your side. As your faithful knight, I’ll have to. If only to please Your Majesty.”
The queen laid a hand atop his, intertwining their fingers together. From within the shadows, he sought her eyes out—the calm that had soared back into them.
“We will fight this together, Arkyll,” she said, his name flowing gently from her lips. “The how of it is what I’m afraid of—as I’m sure you’ve gathered.”
He gently pulled away from her grasp, his eyes glistening. No tears were visible, however, only solemnity and sorrow.
The war that was to come… Images of it, dreams, came into her mind’s eye as a tirade, a tsunami that threatened to devour all she loved. Images of swords clashing against swords, metal against metal and the heavy breathing of men before they died. Before blood sprayed on the crimson battlefields.
She was pulled away from the thoughts. The firelight within the inn—emanating from its source, the torches hung in sconces—shuddered nearby, chartreuse and orange melding together into a pattern.
“How do we do it?” he asked, a fierceness in his gaze that she’d never seen before.
Arnaressa leaned forward, casting her eyes upon the bar before meeting with Arkyll’s. Silence fell around them before she replied, “The plan?”
He nodded sharply, his words becoming wisps on the wind. “Taking a queen off the throne won’t be easy. And, if it’s going to happen by death, you’re going to have to cover it up.”
“I’m not killing my cousin.” Now that she thought of it, sanctioned murder was worse off the battlefield. Although chaos was sweeping through the land, order still needed to be justified and taken granted for in Questeria. It wouldn’t help if she stabbed Danailys in the heart.
But… “You will kill many more people in the war. They may be related to you, they may not. But they will be enemies. Danailys is an enemy. She has taken your throne, she’s degraded your people and—most importantly—she’s made your empire seem like a wasteland.”
He spoke the truth, and his words did not falter at the slightest. She yearned to hear more, but was wholly aware he’d already stated his point. Stated that, if she wanted to take her throne back… If she wanted to reclaim her homeland, her people…
Then her cousin must be eliminated.
And she knew just how to begin.
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