A harrowing fantasy adventure!
An Audience with the Sorceress
For Huck, coming to Lelidua was like reaching a conclusion he had always suspected he would reach, but until now had been fortunately absent. Asunder had always been a nightmare, with Iska and its first encroachments into his world being just like a dream -- and even as the two worlds had become more and more connected, it had continued being a dream. But now, as his horse stepped through an Iskan city, full of an Iskan people, who knew it was no dream -- though it might still have been a nightmare.
They passed into the Sorceress's tower and were taken by the shade inside. Though they were still accompanied by Ledis and Sarohe, Flavian joked: "What did I tell you, Huck? I told you I'd get you here."
"Now just get us home," Huck replied. He looked at Del, whose eyes were filled with wonder and fear.
Once inside the tower, they found themselves in a large main hall, carpeted and lit by magical lamps that glowed slightly orange like fire, yet did not flicker. The room was about the size of a large hotel lobby, and seemed to serve the same function: guards, magistrates, and bureaucrats lingered upon the furniture and along the walls, either waiting or recovering from business with the Sorceress.
Ledis and Sarohe led the companions across the hall to heavy glass doors at the other end.
"Now, speak only when spoken to," commanded Ledis.
Huck nodded. He held the Good Lich's parchment delicately in his hands, as though it was both a burden and a secret treasure.
When they passed into the throne room, they heard a polite argument echoing across the rock walls and ceiling:
"But your majesty — how can we accomplish such a thing?" said a plump, priestly-looking individual in a green robe, who stood in front of the throne speaking to the Sorceress.
Here they got their first sight of the Sorceress themselves. She immediately appeared old, but it wasn't until they got closer that they saw how truly advanced her age was, perhaps in the early 90's or later. She was dressed in a long, v-necked gown of gossamer silver and blue stripes, and sat crumpled upon a large throne of crystal.
Her voice echoed next: "My dear magistrate, it is not my duty to tell you how to do your job. That what you are for."
"But milady, the lower classes with be starving soon!"
"Then feed them, magistrate. And don't bother me about it anymore!"
The Sorceress had dark brown eyes and a haughty face. Her lips were painted pink and her hair was cut short to her shoulders and braided in part.
She coughed, the noise rattling about the room. Recovering, she glared at the magistrate. "Leave me now. And do your job!"
"Yes... your majesty," he said, fleeing.
The Sorceress turned to Ledis and the companions. "Ledis! My dear knight, come here!"
Ledis stepped to the Sorceress and they clasped hands. "Milady," he said.
"Oh, my Ledis," said the Sorceress. "The closest I ever had to a son. If only you knew how I suffer under all these demands. I am only a Sorceress, not a goddess!"
"Not yet," said Ledis, smiling. He turned and gestured at the companions. "The Good Lich has sent word."
"He has! Good! Good! What is it now?" She peered at the companions. "Yes... I've been waiting for this. Waiting and waiting... and waiting. Please, bring me the message."
Huck moved closer to the Sorceress, noticing Ledis placing his hand on his sword as he did so. He handed the sealed parchment to the Sorceress, who quickly ripped apart the seal as though she was a child at Christmas.
All was silent as she read the note, except for the raspy sound of the Sorceress's breath. When she was done with the note, she sighed, leaning her head back to the heavens and groaned. "No!" she whispered. "No!" she said more forcefully.
"What is it, milady?" Ledis asked.
"He has denied me. Again! He says it's impossible. Nothing's impossible!"
Both Ledis and the Sorceress grimaced. Huck also glanced at Sarohe -- she seemed to smile slightly.
The Sorceress turned to Huck. "Why do you bring this? Why does he deny me? I am willing to pay anything! I have offered everything! And still, he says no. Why?" He voice was angry and her eyes were sharp.
"Ah, I don't know," said Huck. "I really don't know what you ask for, I am only his messenger."
"Don't play me as a fool," said the Sorceress. "I ask for his secret. The secret to lichdom, to eternal life. But he denies me. He offers me cattle instead. Cattle!"
Ledis is equally angry. "Is that all you have brought?"
"Yes," said Huck.
"Have you nothing else to say?" the knight continued.
"No, I don't think so," Huck acknowledged.
Ledis drew his sword and pointed it at Huck. "Then get out!"
Huck took Del by the arm and led her back out of the throne room as the orc and halfling followed.
"Well," said Flavian, as they entered the first hall again. "That went terribly."
"What now?" asked Jobe.
"Now we're all doomed," snarled Flavian.
Huck didn't know what to say.
"Huck?" Del asked.
"What just happened?"
"I don't know."
But then Sarohe's voice interrupted: "Wait, travelers!"
They turned and found her behind them. The black metal of her armor and her sword -- though sheathed -- had never seemed so threatening.
"You say the Lich has cattle?"
"Waiting," answered Huck.
"A hundred. And more where that came from."
Sarohe glanced around her, as though to check if anyone listened. "Our city will soon be starving!" she whispered. "We need your cattle."
"We need your protection," said Huck.
"I cannot grant it."
"Then I don't know what to say."
"The Sorceress wants immortality," Sarohe mused. "And she will stop at nothing to get it. But I will tell you this: there are those of us in Lelidua who wish she does not get it."
Huck tried to absorb this information quickly. "What do you want us to do?"
"Can you wait? A few days at least?"
"I don't know! For answers."
"From the Sorceress?"
"No! From the Sorceress's enemies." Here Sarohe's eyes became piercing as she looked at Huck, as though she was inviting him and the companions into a great danger.
"We will wait," Huck said at last.
"Find an inn. I will find you. Be patient. There is a solution here, I promise!"
"You better be right," said Huck.
"I know," said Sarohe.