Chapter Four – In the Shadow and Smoke

Utgar watched his daughter with pride. She stood before him, straight as a sword, but not stiff. She was lithe, graceful, her beautiful frame flowing about her, her long black hair forming her face to perfection. It was dark, the room lit only by two braziers crackling with flame. Their light gleamed across her body, shining with sweat. She still breathed heavily beneath her leather armor.

“Taelord!” Utgar’s voice snapped the silence in two like a flash of lightning and thunder. He was pleased to see that his daughter did not flinch. She was strong. She was fitting.

A massive kyrie entered the dark throne room. He bowed low to Utgar, his dark leathery wings briefly enveloping him. “My lord,” he said, falling to one knee. He didn’t mutter or purr like the others. His voice was full, powerful, betraying a sharp mind. He was Utgar’s most trusted lieutenant.

Utgar sat back in his throne, surveying the two side by side. He smiled in the darkness. “Taelord, you work my daughter too hard.” His voice was quiet, almost playful.

“Your daughter surpasses all of my men, my lord. I train her abilities further than theirs.”

Utgar’s smile widened. “Your choice is wise. Do you find her a fitting soldier?”

A pause. “Far beyond. She attacks with a grace and thirst for blood none of us can surpass. Her blades are but blurs to our eyes. None can harm her on the field. Even I find her to be…” Taelord halted.

“Find her to be what, dear Taelord?” prompted Utgar, silent laughter in his voice.

Taelord stood rigid, eyes fixed on a point somewhere above Utgar. “I find her to be a kyrie like no other, my lord. I find her to be your daughter, and worthy of all the fear you command.”

“And loyalty, I hope,” added Utgar quietly.

“Of course, my lord,” said Taelord. “My loyalty for you is matched only by my loyalty to your daughter.” Taelord stopped abruptly, realizing he had said too much.

Utgar only chuckled. “It is but natural to follow my daughter, Taelord. Do not be ashamed. I consider it an honor that she commands such a heart as yours.”

He sat back, observing the two outlined against the fires. “And what say you, my daughter? You are untested. You have yet to face the alliance on the field of battle; you have yet to feel the chaos of war.” Utgar purred the last word out, relishing its sound. “Are you ready?”

“My lord, I was ready to fight the moment I entered this world. I was ready to fight the moment my mother was slain by Jandar. I was ready to fight the moment I touched a sword. Show me where the alliance lies, and I shall strike them such a blow that they shall never recover. Their weakness shall be so great that we shall smite their ruin upon the land, and take Valhalla as rightfully ours.”

“And you, Taelord? Do you agree that she is ready?”

“I… yes, my lord. What she says is true.”

“You hesitate.”

Silence.

“Do you perhaps think of my daughter as more than a soldier, Taelord?”

“Perhaps, my lord Utgar. But she is nonetheless ready.”

Utgar smiled to himself in the shadow and smoke. He knew Taelord had feelings for his daughter. Feelings that could prove useful. But for now, he would let them pass.

“Taelord, you are to select a small force of kyrie to accompany me. I wish to remain unnoticed. I go north. In the meantime, you will take my daughter and a regiment of your best troops, and search the swamps to the South.”

“For what am I to search, my lord?” said Taelord.

Utgar smiled to himself. “A clearing surrounded by the densest jungle. A perfect place to raise an army the likes of which Valhalla has never seen. When you have found such a place, report back here and await my return. If my mission is unsuccessful, as I believe it shall be, I will have a new mission for the two of you, one which will cripple the alliance before this new war even begins.

“Taelord,” Utgar added as the two kyrie turned to leave. “Keep her safe. Come back with my daughter. Come back with my Runa.”

“Of course, my lord.”

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