After what seemed like an hour, Raven and I gave in for the search and sat down against trees. I sat with knees up and head lolling against the bark. Where we were escaped me, we could have been anywhere on this continent by now. I couldn't hear the sea either. "I think Advisor Wood was fooling us when he gave us that letter. Stupid riddle." Raven scowled and fiddled with one of her daggers. She twisted and turned the dagger into the soil like a drill. "I wonder how my other students are doing, back in the Olympion Flatlands. Good?" Her eyes met mine and expectantly stared.
"Well... I've survived." I smiled and touched my stomach wound. It didn't ache as bad back in the kingdom, but pain surged through my body still.
Raven didn't smile, "You did. I'm just worried that I won't go back to a class after this."
"Probably some people in the kingdom will enrol?" I asked.
"Maybe. If a majority have been slain." She sighed and rutted her brows hopelessly, "That means I'll have to teach basics. Again!"
I chuckled and thought back to my beginner days as an Assassin. Gantis wouldn't leave me alone and would be in the corner on a bench, ready for anything to go wrong. That was one of the reasons why Raven disliked her: being too overprotective of me.
"You know that was a bane for me. How you struggled to do a simple strike. That one day when you went against another student and you nearly throttled him in a sparring match." She smirked playfully with eyes settling towards her dagger. "Then there was extreme conditioning."
Everyone in our class hated extreme conditioning. I did, I resented it. I wouldn't move the next morning and I'd probably be living on five pints of blood. "Not that, I hate that." I moaned.
"How do you think I got here today? Those champions I faced in the grand arena, their strikes cut right through me and I still stood because of the conditioning." Her voice was almost boastful. "That's how I got my title, or, why Omen gave me my title."
"Do you think I will get a title after saving you and Brutus?" My question caught her attention. Then she grinned.
"I've told him, well Brutus did. Brutus actually claimed all the glory and said he broke out and saved me, blades flurrying through this Crusade. He was joking when I read it without him knowing. Lump of meat." She sighed and muttered something under her breath afterwards. "Um, but, Omen hasn't replied yet."
"I wonder what it might be." I said, thinking through all of the possible titles. Blood Letter Champion Cassandria; Shadow of the Blood Letter. Faithful would definitely be jealous of me then.
"Red Head Cassandria?" She suggested. "I'm kidding. I hate that nickname and your sister, Faithful. I bet she lost her purity years ago." I rolled my eyes to the thought. Coming to think of it she might already have with the amount of alone time with her lords and Nero. "I'm surprised Omen hasn't kicked her out of the kingdom yet. The amount of times she's nearly killed Nero by mistake."
I smirked at her joke and remembered her moves that she said she was going to train me. "Oh yeah, those special moves."
"What special—Oh, yeah, the 'Thousand Mirror Facade', 'Wink', 'Anti-Chronological'." My eyes got bigger and my mouth got wider to each of the names. I knew the mirror ability, I've seen her use it countless times. Wink must have been what she did against Malgarde. Anti-Chronological I had no idea what that was, but I took it the more complex the word the better it was, or more useful. "I'll teach you them, but not now. It takes time to master. Each of them do."
"How long did it take you?" I asked excitedly.
"A couple of days. To get the basics anyway. Months to master."
"Oh." I sounded daunted, "Just like training, then."
"Well once I've taught you the basics, you can master them yourself." She grunted and stood up, "We best get on with this search. Those Necromancers could be anywhere."
I stood up with her and waited for her next move. Her chinned slowly lifted to the sky and her eyes scanned for a hole. They broadened and a thin smile weaved her lips. She must have seen a hole. I checked for myself and stared intently at the sky. Something was different with the clouds this time: they were in different shades instead of a solid black. They were black, grey and onyx now and they appeared baggy and lumpy. Raven pointed with arm fully straightened, "There. The hole. It's stopped." I followed her arm up to the sky and saw an oval hole in the clouds and beyond, some stars. "Finally, let's go." She quietly cheers and began to jog. I followed close by through the many trees and stray branches, eventually stopping for breath at an open acre of grass, surrounded by trees. Above, the hole in the clouds was just passed the acre, opposite us. I remembered Advisor Woods riddle: 'Where there are dark clouds, there are Defilers. Where there's a hole, there is a Necromancer'. The clouds were everywhere above us, yet we saw no Defilers. I looked at Raven.
"Raven, remember the riddle that Advisor Wood said?"
She raised a brow at me, "Yeah. I remember. Why?"
"Why haven't we seen any yet?" I asked. The feeling of being watched suddenly crept on my mind. Were we being hunted all this time? Raven stared at me, her eyes filled with worriment. I probably struck paranoia in her, but she still moved towards the hole.
"If we see any we'll kill them anyway." She said with a hint of fear in her voice. Raven began to jog again towards the hole. With a lungful of air, I jogged along with her and unsheathed my daggers.
"Surround them!" A voice suddenly erupted the field. Raven and I froze in spot. Fear riddled my senses; we were caught off guard just like before. Decrepit silvery hands burrowed out of the soil, followed by blemished heads with eyes that glowed intensely. The ground around us illuminated brightly with their eyes increasing in number. Helplessly, I watched as each one stood taller, looking defiantly at me and over me. Raven took my hand and pushed me closer to her.
"Back to back, Cassandria!" She muttered in my ears. It eased my tension, but then I thought: what good would that do?
"Who's joining my family today?" The voice continued. This time the voice wasn't posh, nor was it a Blood Letter accent. I looked at the source of the voice. A slender figure, the same size as Raven came at the edge of the crooked circle. He wore a long cloak that enshrouded his neck below. He had black hair that came to ears. His pale white skin was kindled brightly by the glowing eyes. Looking at him, he could have passed off for being dead if he feigned it. He must have been one of the Necromancers we were hunting for.
His presence brought an abrupt chill to my spine and to the back of my neck. "Ah, a girl with blood in her hair. Delicious." He pulled out a purple sphere from under his cloak that hummed an eerie song and faintly glowed. He ogled at me and ordered, "Tell me about her."
The orb stopped singing and reflected a faded image of me. "Cassandria," the orb echoed demonically, "Torment courses through her, travelling endlessly and cannot find peace within her blighted veins. A girl of reverence unto those who are higher in status. However she is a girl of violence. Blood has been exchanged for knowledge and emancipation. Steel has sundered leather and a scream of agony mocks her, yet she can't hear it." It finished and began singing its subtle dark chime.
"How interesting. Everything I have judged on this forsaken land has violence of some sort burning through them." He looked at Raven and twitched a smile. "I only need to look at you."
"What's that meant to mean?" Raven asked uneasily.
"A girl who is going to barter me instead of purge me. Very more interesting." He broadened his eyes interesting like a baby seeing a new toy.
"If you're going to change us, why don't you go ahead." Raven challenged. My feet felt like they glued to the floor. I didn't want to die here, nor did I want to turn into a Defiler.
"Someone willing to be a part of my family? How gracious of you, stranger."
"Family? What are you talking about?" Raven questioned, confused.
"Don't you know of the war before this one? The ones dressed in gold took my families heads. The ones dressed in black took my village." He said flatly. He must have referred to the King Galliantus's son and daughter, the ones that got killed. "We're creating new families for ourselves. The ones that </i>you</i> took away."
"By turning innocent people into mindless ghouls?" Raven protested.
"Innocent?" The Necromancer paused for a moment. "Your ignorance is golden. I'm rebuilding my family and ridding the world of its hatred."
"It's like fire with fire. They kill you, you kill them. What's the point?"
"To take back what was mine!"
"By killing the innocent!" Raven glimpsed at a Defiler and pointed, "Why did you take that one? What did that one do?"
The Necromancer glanced in the direction, held the orb and focused. "Joseph Miller," the orb echoed. The Defiler twitched in the orbs direction and moaned a painful cry. It still knew its name. "A man under the influence that his end will bring him to paradise. He believed his impurity would be absolved, that the blood he bathed in daily would turn into the water of life and allow him to flourish a new stem into another world." The orb began to sing once again
"Violence. Greed. Lust." The Necromancer bitterly judged and looked back at us. "None of these are innocent. You aren't innocent, neither of you—"
"And doing this makes you innocent yourself?" Raven raised her voice.
"My family was taken away! Without question - without reason! I am taking back—"
"Infected! In the middle of the field!" Another voice bellowed from a distance. The Necromancer and Defilers all turned to the direction of the voice. An intense green light drew closer, turning the Defilers a solid black. The sound of horses galloping came closer.
An arm wrapped amount of chest and forced me to the ground. My head thudded against the grass and my daggers slid out of my hands. All I could see now was a blur of green blinding me. "Stay down." Raven instructed quietly. A horse hoof stomped the ground inches from me. A splatter of bloody mud coated my face. Then as I thought the charge was over, more horses galloped through the circle. I felt a sharp wind brush my hair and followed was a decapitated Defiler. Red vines sprung lifelessly from its neck and brown blood streamed out into the mud. I gasped and the taste of stale iron filled my lungs.
I wanted to recoil. This was sick.
"My family!" The Necromancer cried. "You killed them."
"It's a Necromancer, my lord." Another voice informed. Most likely the knights didn't see us. I remained still on the ground with Raven's arm still under me.
"Purge it." The first voice commanded. "Quickly. We've got to get to the Ebony gate."
"As you wish." I heard a knight dismount from a horse and a blade sliding out of a buckle. His glowing green boots trod over the decapitated Defiler that lay next to me, all the way to the Necromancer. It was hazy, but the knight drew positioned the blade to the Necromancers neck.
"Go on." The Necromancer challenged. "Do what your kind always does. You're like a virus. You're in one place, deprive it of its beauty, then carry on to the next patch."
The knight merely stood his ground, blade unmoved from the Necromancer's neck.
"Purge it," the first voice impatiently ordered. The knight obeyed and swung with force. In a second, the Necromancer dropped like stone, gasping and choking.
"What about the bodies, my lord? I see a few faces, here: Joseph, Alexander?" The second voice asked, glancing around. My heart abruptly began to thump against my suffocated chest and my breathing increased. I tried to control myself, if they heard me, they'd kill Raven and I in cold blood.
"Forget about them. They're dead now. Let them rot." The first voice sullenly said.
"As you wish." The knight strolled back over to his horse. Then they galloped off from where we came through. I waited until their trampling wasn't heard and in a matter of seconds they were gone.
I hastily got to my feet and limped away from the bloodied circle and rotting bodies. My eyes stung and excessive acid built up in my throat. Dropping to my knees, I coughed and recoiled hysterically, feeling that my cheeks were about to explode if I carried on. "Raven?" I coughed and spit sprayed out my mouth. With my cloak, I wiped my lips and called again, "Raven!?"
"Get to your feet." A male voice demanded quietly. I looked beneath me at the grass and saw a fuzzy green light. It was a Crusader. I didn't have my daggers so I couldn't resist, nor did I have the energy to run. Defiantly and hopelessly, I stood and faced him.
A green concave blade was pointed towards me.