Rebirth Online World

Creating, Telling, Sharing Dreams

Birth of a Necromancer

Chapter 048 - The Countess


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Silence, only interrupted by a cough here and there, dominated the tense air that clung around the Countess. Ash was at a complete loss—he’d never experienced pressure of this magnitude before.

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Even Evitagen doesn’t put on an air like this.’

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That realization lit an attentive fire in the young elf’s eyes. The edges of his mouth curved into a polite smile.

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“Ash Tsuga, at your service,” he said.

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The necromancer lowered his head before the Countess; an action he knew Zennereth would’ve utterly despised, had he been there.

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“No, Emissary”—Ash felt the Countess’s cold, silky smooth fingers wrap around his chin—“I appreciate the gesture, but you are my guest. An Emissary shouldn’t bow their head before anyone but the Dark Ones.”

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She lifted Ash’s face so he could stare into her radiant blue eyes. Much like the goddess the Countess worshipped, her eyes shone brightly with intelligence—a trait Ash loved and loathed in equal measure. An intelligent person typically made for great conversation but also a worthy adversary.

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Ash took the Countess up on her offer to stand upright and spoke:

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“Thank you, Countess,” he began, making good use of the etiquette he’d been taught, long ago, “I was overjoyed to see your letter on my desk. To know that people with proper manners exist on these shores”—the young elf sent a mean stare to the shaman, who was still kneeling at the Countess’ feet—“brings me great joy.”

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Eerika chuckled.

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“That reminds me. Voelv, you may leave,” she told the woman at her feet.

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“Thank you, my lady,” she replied before scurrying away.

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“That goes for the rest of you, as well,” Eerika continued.

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She was immediately obeyed, which only deepened Ash’s respect for her. The necromancer had noticed that a great deal of her influence over the room came from the regal way with which she carried herself. It felt like every movement she made were the product of years spent dancing in front of a live audience.

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He made a mental note to practice some respect-inducing postures, as well.

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“Countess—”

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“Please, call me Eerika.”

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Ash didn’t even feel annoyed, being interrupted by the woman. In just the span of a few minutes, Eerika had managed to disperse his dislike for the high-and-mighty wording, she’d shown him in her letter; it was an attitude that translated well into the way she carried herself in person, too. Ash could respect that.

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“Eerika, then. I’d love to say that my trip was pleasant, but that would be an outright lie. Your guards forced me to fight my servant… to beat him—like some kind of rabid dog.”

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The young elf took a step back from the Countess, who was still staring deeply into his eyes with her intelligent eyes.

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“I trust you weren’t aware of your servants’ behavior.”

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“I was not. Voelv tends to go overboard when it comes to preserving the name of myself and Dark Ones. I hope you won’t hold it against her, it’s simply in her nature,” Eerika replied with a smile. “Now. If you would follow me, I have more fitting facilities for conversation. I understand you like your liquor.”

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The fancily clad woman turned around and strolled to a door in the far end of the rectangular hall. She held the door open for Ash, who slowly walked after her—cautious. While he was most definitely fond of the way the Countess carried herself, he knew that she was exactly the type of person he would have to watch out for.

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I won’t fall for that again,’ he thought to himself. A clear image of Robinia appeared in his mind. By Ash’s standards, even Zennereth was technically not worthy of complete trust. After all, he had only known the lich for a few months. ‘Speaking of…

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“I came here with a few companions,” Ash began, as he passed through the open door and into a hallway. Shortly after he was joined by Eerika and the sound of the door softly shutting behind them. “They should be within your walls. They’re probably also able to deduce that I’m in the citadel. Would you make sure they’re granted passage to this place? Preferably with an escort.”

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Eerika gave off a short laugh, “They’re both waiting in their rooms. Your carriage is parked in the courtyard.”

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“Uh, what? How?”

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“I’m no barbarian,” she said and ran in front of Ash to block his way, before firmly planting her index finger on his chest. She was a head shorter than the elf, but she sure didn’t feel like it. “Of course, I’ve taken care of your companions. You must think quite lowly of me, to assume I’d disregard the Emissary’s escort.”

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She removed her finger from his chest and opened a door to their left. Inside was a room matching the hallway—gray stone walls, a high loft, and blood-red banners hanging with a bit of space between them. The room was illuminated by brass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, shedding their beautiful light over a single table, surrounded by leather couches.

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“H—hans,” Ash stammered.

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The young Northerner was seated in one of the couches. Behind him towered Zennereth, spreading his cold aura around the room, as if to contrast the otherwise warm light from above. As soon as he saw Ash, however, he rushed to his feet and stood upright like a soldier before a sergeant.

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“Glad to see the two of you made it here safely.”

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Zennereth had yet to say anything so Ash walked to him, slightly worried that the lich might be holding a grudge against him because of their fight outside town.

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The young elf laid a hand on the lich’s shoulder—a gesture that hardly seemed fluid, due to the considerable difference in height between the two.

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“I’m sorry,” the necromancer told his servant. “I went too far out there.”

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“There is… no need for you to… apologize. I was simply overwhelmed by your strength. I do not hold it against you.”

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That hardly gave the necromancer any closure, but he decided to leave it at that so not to appear a soft ruler before the Countess behind him.

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“Good,” was all he said, clapping the lich on the shoulder before turning back to face his host. “Well, you’re the one who called me here,” the elf began. “What do you want to discuss?”

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Eerika joined her three guests by the couches, and motioned for them to sit down before joining them herself. This, Ash thought, was yet another gesture that testified to her probably countless years of experience parleying with peers and otherwise.

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“Before we get to that, I would once again like to firstly extend my warmest welcome to the three of you,” she began. “I’ve heard of the two of you”—she gestured towards Ash and Zennereth—“but unfortunately I have not had your name grace my ears before. Hans, was it?”

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“Yes, ma’am.”

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“Manners, I see. Very good.”

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Eerika nodded in acknowledgement.

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“Ash Tsuga, Emissary of the Dark Ones—your arrival has been much anticipated. My spies in the south were quick to pick up on your existence; I’ve waited for you to join me here for many months.”

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She extended her hand to the young elf, who, according to proper courtly etiquette leaned forward and kissed it.

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“Charming, when he wants to be. Lovely. And Zennereth de Sarr—you were on my father’s radar, quite a few years ago. Unfortunately, he, like you, perished before he could reach out to you. A man of your talents is… an anomaly around here—a welcome one, but an anomaly all the same. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

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Eerika didn’t extend her hand to Zennereth, as she had done to Ash, as he was no longer considered nobility by any standards. Not that the lich seemed to mind. In fact, he nodded in acknowledgement of the Countess’s understanding of their respective standings.

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“I am Eerika, Countess and Queen Regent of Nefar, Ruler of Frostborg and Protector of the People. You are my guests and may address me as you see fit,” she declared and looked around at the faces of the three, who had come to her capital. “—all of you,” she added. Her eyes resting on Hans who seemed unsure of what to do with himself in the face of the woman under whose rule he had lived until just recently.

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“Pleasantries aside”—Ash rose to his feet, fed up with formalities—“you called me here so we could discuss terms. You don’t like me settling on your land—what do we do about that?”

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Eerika stood up to face the necromancer on a somewhat even level—he was taller than her. The blonde noble’s face didn’t show any signs of slight at her guest’s relatively straight-forward and brash behavior.

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“I do have a few ideas, but I was actually hoping you might have come with a proposition, great Emissary. With no intention to come off as overbearing, I hope you do understand that intruding upon and then settling down on my land is something I, in any other case, would punish with death.” The Countess looked deep into Ash’s gray eyes. “However, because of your standing with the Dark Ones, I dare not even begin to ponder the consequences of punishing you.”

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Ash stared at her for a few seconds, as if to say what are these ideas, you speak of? It seemed the Countess was going to make him prompt her to speak, so he did.

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“Go on.”

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“I see two options,” Eerika began, “each of which have their own appeal. The first would be to appoint you a lord of the realm. While this is by far the easiest solution, it also places me above you and makes me responsible for everything you say and do.”

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The Countess paused for a bit.

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“I see,” Ash said.

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He wanted to say that wouldn’t work out for him, but decided to hear the woman’s other proposition first. He didn’t know if his army could hold up against hers, if negotiations failed. His current task was to make sure that they didn’t.

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“The other option is marriage.”

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Eerika said this with such dry flatness that she might as well have been talking about the weather—a very boring topic in a land where the climate offered everything from snowy to snowier weather.

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“E—excuse me, what?” the necromancer stammered.

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He frantically looked at Zennereth with eyes that practically screamed for help. The lich just nodded towards the blonde girl, as if to say, “Hear her out.”

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“Well, it makes sense—doesn’t it? Your divine connection, coupled with my existing grip on the southern regions of The North, makes this the obvious move for you.”

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“I can see that…” Ash mumbled, scratching his chin which had recently started sporting stubbles of beard.

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In reality, he couldn’t really wrap his head around why she was proposing marriage, out of all things. Ash had actually thought stuff like that was completely off the table for him, ever since he realized that humans and elves were treated differently. Robinia had briefly piqued his interest, but she…

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She wasn’t useful like this.’

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A rarely-seen glimmer appeared in the elf’s eyes.

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“It looks like you get the idea,” Eerika said. “That’s good. I’ll give you some time to weigh the ideas against each other, but it looks like you see that the merits of marriage far outweigh those of lordship.”

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She stood up, seemingly done speaking; then sat down again, apparently still with more to say, “I hope you do understand that taking my hand in marriage will leave you unable to frivolously chase other women. That would be… problematic, in multiple ways.”

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Ash nodded.

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“I understand.”

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“Good, well then, I have a meeting to attend. I’ll tell the lords and ladies of the realm that you’ve arrived safely. If there’s anything—anything at all—you need, feel free to call a maid. You can find them around the citadel.”

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Eerika nodded to the room and left into the hallway outside, gently closing the door behind her.

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The room was silent for a few seconds. The young elf was lost in thought, sitting with his head in his hands. His two servants didn’t appear to know what to say—well, Hans probably didn’t; Zennereth just appeared to respect the fact that his master probably didn’t want to be disturbed.

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If it’s this easy to get influence in the entire southern regions of The North, then I don’t see the point of not going along with her proposal. Unless, of course…

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Five minutes, or so, passed before Ash finally raised his head from his hands.

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“Zennereth…”

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“Yes, master.”

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“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I should be taking the Countess up on her offer. What do you think?”

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“Ah… so you think so, too… It is as you say—this is likely a test.”

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Ash clicked his tongue.

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“She wants to see if I’ll instantly go for the more powerful position. It’s likely the same with allowing us to address her informally—also a test.”

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“So—what is she trying to—uh. Is she trying to understand your personality?” Hans asked.

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Zennereth laughed coldly.

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“No, she’s trying to understand… the kind of threat we pose. Our lust for… power.”

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“—which, to be honest, is quite grand. What can I say?” Ash licked his lips, “I’m insatiable.”

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The young elf looked at Zennereth. Despite the skeletal nature of his face, the elf could easily make out the displeasure in his mind.

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“But, while I will not settle for this indefinitely, I’ll take her up on her offer to appoint me a lord of the realm. It’s a step up from being a slave, right?” he said, not without a chuckle. “I’m gonna head out. Have the maids prepare dinner for two people. Other than that, I don’t care what you do—go explore town.”

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With those words, Ash left the room. He could hear indistinct chatter erupt between Hans and Zennereth, as soon as the door closed behind him.

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He felt a bit of a smile surface on his chapped lips.

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I’m glad those two are getting along.’

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The smile quickly faded into a more serious expression when he reached the citadel’s entrance hall.

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The soon-to-be lord knew that if he wanted to have any chance of winning the people’s favor, he would have to tie up any loose ends such as...

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His mind went to the boy he had shouted at earlier.

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With a sigh, he nodded to the two guards at the citadel’s gate, who promptly opened the door to let him out.

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“The Countess instructs you to be back before sundown,” one of them stiffly announced, just as Ash found himself bathed in the light from the cold winter sun outside.

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“Not to worry, I will.”

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This won’t take long.’

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