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Hidden Flame

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Malekus had been in one of the smaller sanctuaries pouring over passages from the Canon of True Law, as he would whenever he would return from a mission. Thyra his fellow devout appeared seemingly out of nowhere just as he was getting settled for the night. Her eyes were narrowed down at him and her mouth parted only a little.

“Lady Feora wishes to see you” was all she said, he didn’t even have time to reply before she had disappeared again.

He sighed a little, not that he minded being summoned, but that it was already so late; he had hoped that his mistress would have been sleeping and getting well earned rest. Malekus was never surprised by this sort of thing though, he knew that Lady Feora, Protector and Priestess of the Flame was ever working. He arrived to the Sul Temple to see his mistress down on one of the prayer rugs, still in her full warcaster armor. Even in the low light of the candles she was very intimidating.

“I am at your command, Priestess” he said moving down to his knees, though he did not join her.

She stood and turned to face him, her bronze mask catching the candlelight making her terrifyingly beautiful to behold with the stained-glass windows as a backdrop behind her. “Your report, Malekus” she said.

He looked down to the floor. “The northwestern villages have been secured, my lady. We lost no warjacks, and Eye of Truth performed as expected. There should be tithes arriving from the villagers within the week.”

The marbled floor showed her reflection moving her hands behind her back, a tell that she was pleased. “Good, I knew that you would not fail me. I have another task for you Malekus, a task that I am trusting you will not only accept, but will fulfill without fail,” she took a step closer. “Come with me, it is something better said in private.”

He did as he was bid and followed her to her chambers further inside of the temple. Once the door was closed she turned to face him. “Malekus we need control of the Synod, without their support the scrutators can attempt to be rid of me, and therefore all of the work we have accomplished without the Hierarch. I realize that the people are more on my side, but I would rather not have it come to the people fighting their own faith based on the poor judgement of bitter old men, wouldn’t you agree?”

He nodded, “Yes my lady you have done so much for the faith it would be a sin to allow all that has been accomplished fall to the wayside because of pride from a few. They fear your power and dare to say that it is corruption. What must I do to secure your plan?”

“They will never let me lead, I am a woman, I am a warcaster, and they know I am not to be trifled with. They allow Hierarch Severius his long leash because of how far he has taken the Northern Crusade, but he has abandoned Imer, he has left us halved and we must catch up with the rest of the nations if we are to crush them, Menoth is mighty but without tools to assist us his power is limited in heathen lands. I need a partner to…’reason’ with them that what I am suggesting is not only the insight given to me by Menoth, but the natural and logical route we must take if we are to win this crusade against the heretics.”

“I see,” Malekus said. “Who would this partner be?” he was hopeful that his voice did not betray him. He had long admired Feora, she was everything a true Menite should aspire to be, and more than that, she was powerful, driven, and mysterious beyond words. In his private confessions he had dreamed of becoming a more present person by her side. He would tell himself that at the very least it could ease some of the burden she carried every day.

“I need you,” his mind snapped at that quick phrase barely catching what came next, “to go north and speak with Tristan Durant, that new blood they had from Lael. I hear that he is not only popular among the people, but also has a notably longer leash with the priesthood. I feel he will do rather nicely” she finished.

It was a good thing that Malekus still was wearing his armor and his mask with it, should he have his regular prayers tonight he would scold himself for not focusing on his mistress’ needs so that she could better serve the Protectorate. How could he have been selfish? While he was popular within the priesthood for his methods of getting villages to convert from their heathen ways, he wasn’t always popular with the people due to his brutality. There was no room for weakness, but without a lay population of emboldened zealots to take up arms, the Protectorate would fall.

“Of course my lady, I shall set out at once. What should I say to the young man?” he asked.

“I feel that you will know what to say to him. You should return and hopefully with him if possible, but if not so be it, you are my personal messenger and you will come back to me with his reply.”

As he was told, so it happened. Malekus set out that very night not stopping until he reached Lael. He stopped only to get a new horse and wait for a response from some of the priests as to where the younger warcaster was stationed. He spent the next two days getting composed and reflecting on what it was that his mistress had asked of him.

“Sir Malekus, may I ask what brings you here?” Tristan asked approaching him. He was the very picture of a proud Menite warcaster. His armor was detailed to be closer to that of a priest rather than someone of one of the militant orders. The younger warcaster set down his staff and removed his helmet to show his short blonde hair and rather charming smile. He had a face that looked like you had known him your whole life.

“Sir Tristan,” Malekus responded in kind. “I came at the request of my mistress. She feels that you should come to Sul, there are many things that need to be done and while Lady Feora is a great champion of the Protectorate she cannot do everything by herself.”

“You are asking me if I will leave the Northern Crusade?” his brow furrowed. “While I appreciate the invitation, and that the Priestess of Flame thinks so highly to send you to ask such a question I am afraid that I cannot oblige such a request.”

“Good sir, please allow me to explain” Malekus tried to recover, “She knows how large a position you hold over the priesthood and the people, she merely feels that if you perhaps joined her in Sul that you could inspire more of the faithful to come and join up with the Northern Crusade. Surely you understand that it is difficult even with the occupation and stronghold in Lael that his holyness the Hierarch has secured, it is difficult to make sure that there is enough troops and supplies. Even if they could not be useful for battle purposes, a larger group of Menites assisting the crusade would be vital and perhaps allow for a speedy conclusion so that the Hierarch might return to Imer” he said.

Tristan rubbed his chin. He looked to Malekus then out the window just over his shoulder. Outside there were villagers moving back and forth fixing fences, clearing rocks and other debris from the road. It was not even a week ago that the Protectorate had taken the surrounding area. “While that is a noble goal, I feel that I should remain here. Even if I wanted to return with you Sir Malekus, I would have to be granted permission by Intercessor Kreoss. He no doubt would rather that I stay here to keep up our military strength in this freshly taken territory” he replied.

“I see, Sir I wish you well. I must return to Sul now.”

“Sir Malekus,” Tristan called to the older warcaster as he was turning to leave. “I do wish that it could be different, and do convey my sincerest apologies to the High Priestess, were it in my power I would do everything I can every waking moment for the Protectorate, it is not my home, but it is the home of my faith and she should know that I support that sacred land” he said.

Malekus nodded. “I shall.” As he turned to leave, he did a take back, looking the younger man directly in the eyes, "Oh and I hope that this conversation will remain between the two of us. There are eyes and ears everywhere and even a warcaster under the Creator can never be too careful."

Tristan's smile returned, it was difficult to tell if it was mocking or not. "I shall heed your advice, but I have no fear of retribution as long as my faith is strong I know Menoth will protect me from falsehoods and plots."

There wasn’t much else Malekus could do. Kreoss was in charge of the day to day runnings of the crusade and was already very insistent that the warcasters currently with the Northern Crusade stay, not only to continue expanding the holdings in Lael, but to keep the Hierarch and his advisor the Harbinger of Menoth, safe as well no doubt. However even knowing this he still felt rather defeated as he made his way back to Sul. The very least he had for his mistress was that Tristan seemed adamant about supporting the Protectorate and that if conditions change perhaps the younger warcaster would be able to join them in Sul while the Hierarch would secure the future of the occupied northern lands. However his cheeky response had Malekus riled up. How dare that Tristan Durant even suggest however slightly, that there was falsehood, from a man called The Burning Truth of all casters!

Rather than trying to wait, Malekus went right to see Feora as soon as he arrived. It seemed to take her by surprise as she quickly dismissed her flameguard and escorted him to the back of the temple.

“So then, what news?” Her voice was hushed and her head had a light tilt to it seeing her servant's haste.

“Sir Tristan will not be coming, at least not soon at any rate my lady. He worries that Intercessor Kreoss will keep him with the forces of the Northern Crusade, and despite not being part of the militant orders, I feel that as long as Lael is involved the young man may be reluctant to leave. He did however offer his apologies, and said that he is rather fond of the idea of protecting the land of his faith, even if it is not the land he was born in.” He decided not to worry her with his last little comment.

He heard her let out a deep sigh. “It was a long shot, but I did have to try. I suppose I should thank you for undertaking this task. You’ve done all you could. You are dismissed Malekus” she said turning from him.

Shame racked him while he returned to his own quarters on the opposite wing of the temple. He was too wrapped up in his feelings of failure that he didn’t notice that Feora was following him. Malekus felt so disheartened by his inability to grant his mistress’ wish that he realized he needed to make up for it. Once inside of his own chambers and making sure that the door was closed he began taking off his warcaster armor. He would have to meditate but before that he needed to flail himself, penance for his failure and something to help him focus. He was so into his thinking of how many lashes he felt that he would need that he didn’t hear the door open behind him.

Feora stood in the doorway watching. Despite the fact that Malekus was under her direct command once he had achieved warcaster status she had never seen him outside of his armor. His armor in question was practical, but not very flattering like the armor that the errants, exemplars, and paladins would wear. His had a large belly plate, huge pauldrons and longer tubing to his steampack and to his flamethrower staff that he would carry. His mask was also different in that it functioned more like an alchemist’s gas mask and as a result had a piece that stuck out from his face, giving him not only a slightly sinister look, but he appeared...rounder than the other warcasters.

He was nothing of the sort underneath though. His back was rippled but scarred from his previous lashings that he would take upon himself, his hair was short, but curly brown and his legs were sculpted from the constant weight he would carry day to day in his armor. When he turned to grab his flail he spotted her. His cheeks didn’t have a chance to hide his shame as he quickly looked for something to cover himself. She heard him stuttering out apologies but she elected to ignore them. He didn’t see her close the door behind her, and he was muttering madly about how he was ashamed that she had seen him like this. He started making more annoying noises when she started taking off her mask but thankfully there was a way to shut him up before someone came to see what all of the noise was.

Tristan would have needed to be trained, but it didn't look like Feora would have that problem with Malekus.