Trumpets flared and bells tolled in the vast throne room, decorated in gold, silver and red carpets and tapestries as Felva entered. “The Lady-General Felva seeks audience with Emperor Ahmstar, sovereign of the world, master of the unseen blade, and shaper of lands.” Felva strode into the throne room dressed for battle. A suit of chain-mail armor covered her body, with scale armor along her arms and legs. A red and gold tabard clung to her chest and a snowy-white cloak fluttered behind her. The room was very large, and various servants and guards lined both the east and west walls. As the instruments faded away, the room became silent; each step of her black-metal boots clanked upon the ground and sent echoes cascading against the walls.

The emperor was sitting in his throne, an ornate golden seat fit with a plush comfortable cushion. The throne its self was rumored to have been carved from one of the largest hunks of gold ever pulled from a mine. Its sides and back bore the symbols of the Invisible Hands, a group that the emperor belonged to before his crowning day. Critics of the emperor professed that his continued admiration of the group made many believe that they were sponsored by the emperor’s gold, though the emperor’s staff went out of their way to make it painfully clear that the accusation was unfounded.

To the left of the emperor’s throne was its twin, the empress’ throne. That throne was smaller, more delicate and feminine. Its silver frame contrasted with the emperor’s, its sides and back decorated with impressed leaves, trees, and other natural depictions. Countless hours had gone into its creation, with each leaf having to be placed precisely where the empress specified. While the emperor was sitting in his throne, the empress was not to be seen.

The emperor had always been a fan of bright colors, especially reds and oranges. When he claimed the seat of the nation of Feor, he proclaimed red to be the royal color. The banners that hung on the castle were all taken down and refashioned to the emperor’s tastes. The emperor had even gone so far as to change the royal symbol, moving away from the black stag on a field of green to a crusader of solid red on a black-outlined white shield. The emperor’s staff said the symbol was to reflect the gratitude the emperor felt towards the common soldier as the shield of the empire.

The emperor himself only stood slightly above five and a half feet tall, but due to the raised dais on which his large throne resided, he looked a giant. Upon his head, sitting atop his fine brown hair, was the Imperial Crown. Its value was approximated at being equivalent to two small cities, its gems dazzled and shined when touched by light, accentuating his soft hazel eyes. He was dressed in the Royal Robe, a heavy black garment that had red characters embroidered about it. Each of the characters was to resemble one of the typical residents of the empire, the symbols of a child, farmer, merchant, priest, and lord were the easiest to discern.

As Felva approached the reception proper, the Face of the Emperor moved from his modest seat behind and off to the left of the emperor’s throne. “The emperor recognizes Lady-General Felva and permits her to speak,” he said. All of these formalities for a man who was an emperor less than two years, and ten years her junior. Of course, he had been a lord of a high house before that, so it shouldn’t have been too shocking. The emperor smiled upon her, possibly reading her mind; Felva hated when he tried to do that.

Turning her emerald-green eyes upon the emperor himself, Felva spoke. “Thank you my emperor for allowing me to speak on such short notice. My contacts regularly bring me information from around the country. One such contact has informed me that a group of Calites has bunked down in the ruins of Stacia. I would like to sortie the squad garrisoned near Fort Talnoe and engage the Calites.” The Face was hesitant for moment, no doubt silently receiving the emperor’s message. “Why should we lower the defenses in the Fort Talnoe area to remove a group of vagabonds that do not threaten the security of the good people of the realm?”

Felva shifted her weight, eyeing the emperor instead of his Face. Why he could not simply speak like a normal ruler, she had no idea. “As my emperor surely knows, Stacia was the home of some of the greatest magical achievements of the past years. However unlikely it is that the Calites would uncover a useful magical relic, I’d prefer not to send my men against an unknown threat.”

After another slight hesitation, the Face continued. “I would like to speak with the members of my council before rendering a decision on this matter.” Felva sighed slightly while nodding before moving back towards the door. The emperor always tried to give the impression that the Imperial Council had as much power in decisions as he did. “I would like to speak with you in regards to another manner, Lady-General Felva.”

Turning back around, Felva eyed the emperor. “Oh? What manner would the emperor like to discuss with me?” The Face stood silent. Grumbling, Felva moved back closer to the proper receiving area. “Make yourself available to visit with Lord Palish Stormwing in the near future.” “No.” The anger was apparent on her face, though she tried to regain her composure. “I have already spoken with you in regards to this matter, and I do not consent.” The gasps that fluttered about the back of the room were all of surprise. A rare few people were so defiant of their emperor as Felva, though they should know her style by now.

As if the world froze in place, the memories flooded back. It was a gloomy dark afternoon; the sun was stuck behind thick black clouds. “Do you really believe that? I mean, he has always been a greedy one, which is surprising enough at that, but do you think he could go so far as to betray us?” The man who spoke to her was of medium build, a few inches below six foot and slender at his hundred and a half frame. His light brown hair was cut short, unfazed by the current strong wind, his strong green eyes teasing her.

“Angus has a very chaotic heart, my dear, and his desire for strength and power are extreme. I can only imagine that he believes he is doing all of this in the name of good. What frightens me is when our goals stand opposed to his own, where would he stand then? Not to mention that the seer said--”

“You know those seers are just lecherous coin-snatchers, they couldn’t divine the future of an insect. My prayers have told me that Angus has an important role to play in the unfolding events of the realm. I will watch him with a close eye, though I must say treating him with doubt is unhealthy for the group.” As a priest of the Mysterious One, the man had never trusted in the divinations of other religions or spells. He was a very devout follower of his god, always seeking to provide answers to those in need, providing what he could, and what Felva liked best about him, listening.

“Oh yes. The Trio of Heroes.” Felva smirked as the man cocked his head and looked upon her in mock annoyance. “You know we never asked to be called that.” Felva always liked to poke fun of him, especially seeing as how he wasn’t vain in the slightest. “Endrin the Hidden, Angus the Bold, and of course, Sandro the Silver Saint. Three heroes straight out of the fairy tales brought to life in this day and age. Sent to us to rid the world of--”

Sandro clasped a hand over her mouth, moving his smiling face closer to hers. “Now you are just trying to embarrass me. I could always ask the Mysterious One to grant me the vision to see through objects. Clothes specifically.” Sandro removed his hand and kissed her softly upon the lips. Felva watched as Sandro moved out towards his horse. He gave her one last smile before reeling his steed in and setting off to the west.

The memory faded quickly, bringing Felva back to the drab present. “—why you should meet with the lord. He is an influential man, a man who happens to be very much interested in you and your good deeds that you have brought to--” The Face was rambling on when Felva cut him off. “I said no, that is final. I’ll be awaiting your decision on the Calities in Stacia, and I pray that the gods grant the emperor and his council the wisdom to see the importance in this matter.” Without waiting to hear a reply, Felva turned on her heel and exited the throne room.

The waiting room was abuzz with numerous different peoples as Felva stepped into it. The war that ravaged the country had dulled down to a low buzz, though many people were still left without homes. The destruction that had torn through the western border of the empire would take years to fix. The Calities were an unforgiving enemy, they struck fast and brutally, devastating whole cities in their path. Showing mercy on their victims was rare, and any prisoners whom they spared often wished for death.

Felva headed for the front door, trying to push her way through the throng of people barring her way. “Lady Felva. Lady Felva. Over here.” Genn smiled towards Felva from a doorway that led deeper into the castle. Felva had always been a self-sufficient and independent person. She fixed her own meals, cleaned her own clothes, and bathed herself without any difficulties. All of that was before the war.

When the war broke out, shortly after the Trio uncovered Hellspawn, many people were called up from other avenues of life to serve their country in whatever way they could. Felva had been an accomplished adventurer already, having ventured as fast east as the Sparkling Sea and destroying the evil lurkers that dwelled there. She had lost many friends to the bite of a blade or fire or worse, and she had made many new friends as well.

After attaining some wealth and prestige in her hometown, her fame started to grow towards the other cities of the land. In those days, the old emperor still reigned. He was a normal man, leading the empire well though nothing spectacular was ever credited to him. A fellow adventurer from the capital had come all the way down to Felva’s hometown to speak to her. The conversation was short, he told her of a great treasure that was held in a cave beneath the Frozen Falls. She had heard many stories in her time, but this one struck home, and she decided to seek it out.

The Frozen Falls were a magical place, the area surrounding the falls stayed as cold as a mid-winter day all throughout the year, and the falls themselves flew into a lake of ice. The water was not truly frozen, for it moved like normal water. It was not truly thawed though, as it felt as thick and solid as normal ice. The journey to the falls was uneventful, not a creature nor man disturbed her on the way there. Once she arrived at the falls, and marveling at them, it took her nearly a week to uncover the entrance to the cave. Her memory of the events came to life as if they had happened only a day ago instead of years.

Felva descended into the cave slowly, equipped in her short sword, chain & scale armor, and steel shield. She had purchased a Light Rune from an arcane merchant some years before, which was attached to the front of her shield. When activated, which was done by gently rubbing it, it would come to life and emit a bright light that filled entire rooms.

From somewhere in the cave, something called to her. It wasn’t a voice in truth, though Felva had heard it all the same. She decided to travel further into the cave and discover its source. Upon turning a corner, Felva was greeted by a room sculpted from pure ice. The ice was clear and unblemished, casting reflections of her sword and shield all about. In the back of the room a vibrant ball of white energy floated in the air. Being very cautious, Felva approached, and tried to see what magics were at play.

The ball did not seem to be dangerous, but magic was rarely obvious in its purpose. The calling came to her again, and it seemed to be coming straight from the ball. Sheathing her short sword, she touched the ball with her free hand. The room of ice around her seemed to drain away, leaving her in pitch black. She blinked her eyes a few times, but nothing could be seen. Just as quickly, she stood in a wide-open area. The ground was made of a pale blue stone, and she could not see a ceiling nor any walls for as far as her eyes would allow.

From behind her came a loud crash, and then another, causing Felva to spin about as she drew her blade. Her eyes opened in shock at the creature that was before her. She had heard tales in the past of these powerful beings, though she never thought she would have looked upon one. The creature was over fifty feet long at fist glance, its head the size of a small house. It stood on four legs that supported its immense body. The scales of the creature were pure white, almost as if made of ice. The creature’s eyes were a brighter shade, ice tinged with blue.

The creature seemed to smile, as Felva stood there in awe. “Welcome Felva Valis. I’m the spirit of the Ice Dragon, and you have entered the Spirit Arena. Have you been here before?” The dragon was clearly waiting for a response, but Felva was too shocked to speak. She tried, stammered, tried again, but settled on remaining quiet. “I suppose not then.” The dragon’s breathing was deep, and each time it exhaled an icy chill spread all around.

The dragon sat its backside down, sending its head further and further above her. “In the Spirit Arena you have the chance to best us spirits in a match of martial prowess, or a match of wits.” The dragon peered at her from head to toe. “I’d advise you try to match wits with me, as your ability to provide a suitable challenge in combat looks to be lacking.” The dragon grinned at her. After another few moments of silence, the dragon continued. “Ok….. We’ll move right along into the match of wits then. I hope that you can speak, or else I’m afraid you’ve already lost.”

Felva blinked her eyes a few times, and tried desperately to regain her senses. “Wha..what..what happens if I lose?” The dragon raised one of its front legs, bringing a massive claw to scratch ideally at its chin. “Oh, I forgot to tell you that part I did. Losing means you return to exactly where you were before you were here. You don’t gain anything, but no harm comes to you either. Winning, which in this case means defeating me in a challenge of wits, results in the same plus a gift to you. I’ll hold off explaining that, for I rarely lose. Now, if you are ready, I’ll begin.”
Felva took a deep breath, and then another. “Yes. I guess I am ready.” “Good.” The dragon nodded. “We’ll start with an easy riddle that even a kublon could get.

I come when the sun is down,
My cooling kiss spread all around.
I come from the north, the south, the east, or the west,
Heavy furs and cloaks will protect you from me best.”

The answer was in Felva’s head immediately. As a young girl she had often traded riddles with her sisters and mother to pass the time. As an adventurer she had spent many a cold night sleeping on the forest floor all around the land. “The night wind.” The dragon seemed pleased. “Excellent. That wasn’t so difficult now was it? We move on to the second riddle. This one is not so easy, but still not very difficult.

Use me before the maces, daggers or swords,
I’m most often practiced by clerics or lords.
Alliances and treaties are formed by me,
Documents are signed for all to see.

Felva pondered this riddle as the dragon waited patiently. “Alliances and treaties. I know the lords of the land often send ambassadors to other lands. Sometimes these ambassadors are called diplomats. Is the answer diplomacy?” The dragon laughed a deep laugh, the force of its inhaling so strong that Felva had to steady herself. “That is correct young one. Now for the final riddle. This one is the most difficult riddle there is, for should you succeed, you win.” Felva nodded at the dragon.

“Black as coal, cold as deathearth,
I’m held--”

“Caar the Plagueborn’s Staff of Sorrow!” The words flowed out of Felva’s mouth the moment she heard deathearth. The dragon’s face lost any trace of humor. “You interrupt me and think you know the answer. Don’t you wish to hear the rest of the riddle?” Felva shook her head. “No. There is only one thing that is as black as coal and as cold as deathearth.” The dragon’s face very slowly broke out into a smile. “You’re correct.” Felva smiled right back at the dragon. “Now for your prize…”

The dragon turned and moved away from Felva, traveling a good 300 yards before turning once again to face her. The dragon accelerated, moving incredibly fast for a creature of its size, heading straight towards Felva. As the creature neared her, it seemed to grow smaller. Bracing herself, the dragon continued to shrink until it leaped right at her. Felva closed her eyes and waited for the impact, but it never came. When she opened her eyes, she was standing in the large room covered in ice.

Felva was pulled from her reverie when Genn tugged on her sleeve. “Lady Felva? Please follow me.” Felva nodded, shaking away the remnants of the memory with a wipe of her eyes. The apartments the emperor had assigned to her were very lavish, and came with three servants whose only duty was to make sure Felva was as comfortable as possible.

She would have enjoyed spending some time in the apartments, but after only an hour a messenger came to the door. “Let him in.” The messenger was dressed in full formal attire, the Feorian Crusader displayed proudly on his chest. “Lady-General Felva. The emperor has made his decision.”

(copyrighted M.H.)

If anyone would like to make some comments or suggestions I'd be greatful. Thanks in advance.