It had been many years since her eyes had first laid upon the visage of the Realm of Water. Back then, just as now, the area had overflowed with the natural aquatic energy of the element it represented, overruled by the fluid and flowing nature of its controlling force. The sky was stained with dark, stormy clouds that seemed to constantly cry – weeping over some distant event that no one could remember any longer. The ground laid deluged with the ever-present inundation of the sky above, a thin veil of water always seeming to coat the world around it. Though oddly, that day, the sky did not seem to weep.
As she had grown – as she had learned of the true nature of the world – discovered the truths behind the forces she had once taken to be simply the magic of nature – she had begun to wonder how a realm such as the Water Realm existed. While the vital force of the element was necessary to support any life in the world, the overwhelming presence of the element should have made living in that realm impossible. The sky was nearly always darkened by clouds – almost never letting the rays of the sun strike the surface of the realm. And the constant downpour, without a proper means of convection, should surely have caused the realm to become a giant pool, its contents pressing against the barrier which contained it as the force continued to build. Or, in contrast, an everlasting dark and dreary sky shouldn’t have even been possible. When the sun could not reach the earth to heat the water, there should have reached some point where the clouds simply ran out of their tears. But somehow, neither of these inevitabilities ever seemed to transpire. The rain simply continued to fall, and the land simply continued to exist, and the sun simply continued to stay hidden. A paradox, if ever there was one.
The woman blinked, turning her eyes away from the ever depressing clouds above, lowering them to the visage of a beaten and battered roadside inn. The roof of the building had been punched through with holes, riddled with small openings every few inches. An elder man stood outside the inn, cursing at the work he would now have before him, screaming obscenities and threats at some unseen being.
She blinked again, turning her head away from the inn, toward the melting field of ice. Thin patches still scattered the grass, coating it and holding tight to the blades. A large majority of the icy sheet had melted away as the heat returned to the area. If she were to place a guess, this woman would have to assume it had been roughly three hours since the battle had played out on that field.
Across the field, too, there were small craters, where it seemed some massive force had assaulted the earth. The mysterious woman strode close to one, peering into its center. Lying there, cradled in the dirt, was a small, melting ball of ice. It no longer looked to possess enough power alone to create the gash in which it laid, but this woman knew it had not always been so tiny.
But this field, and the angry man, and the battle-riddled inn were not the only reason she had traveled there that day. She had not made such a long journey, simply to witness this scene – though it did seem to confirm the rumors spread to her master. But her real reason for being there, was inside that inn. The woman turned, trekking across the waterlogged landscape toward the battered roadhouse, ignoring the elderly man’s hollers as she entered the building.
The inside was desolate, though had signs of recent activity. A glance around at the lobby let the woman now a number of people had left the inn in a hurry, probably prompted to flee after the battle that had taken place outside, and the damage their sanctuary had received in the process. The woman turned toward the hallway to her left, sensing the soul of the one she sought.
She turned, walking down the hallway, past the many opened doors, looking at the now vacant rooms as she passed. Again, they now sat lifeless, but held many signs of recent inhabitants – unmade beds, messes on the floor, and drawers and closets left hanging open. She turned away from the vacated quarters, gazing at the closed door at the end of the hallway.
Without knocking or requesting permission, the woman pushed the door open, stepping inside. She glanced about the meager room, disgusted by its primitive nature, but found what she sought. Lying upon the room’s only bed, bundled beneath the covers, was the grizzled and scared face of the one people called The Black Priest. The man’s eyes were closed as he still seemed to shiver from the arctic cold he had been forced to endure.
“Who are you?”
The woman lifted her eyes from the visage of the beaten judge, spying the elderly woman that also occupied the room. Beside her, upon a nightstand, sat a steaming bowl of water, within it a washcloth.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
The aged woman stood, staring at this mysterious woman who looked coldly back upon her.
“Leave here.” The intruder ordered, stepping toward the bed as she turned her eyes back to the Black Priest.
“Miss, I’m sorry, but—“
The intruding woman cut off the old bag, an intangible wave of the woman’s power seeming to shake the room – and the elderly woman’s soul. The ageing female stumbled backwards, shaking with fear, before turning and rushing from the room. The strange trespasser ignored the old bag as she left, screaming to her husband for help, and sat gently upon the edge of the bed.
This strange woman laid eyes upon the hardened features of this Water Realm priest, her pupils tracing the scars that covered the man’s face. How strange it was that a realm that forsook the power of magic relied so heavily upon one who could use it. Or perhaps it was fitting. Fear of the power compelled the Aquatican humans of the realm to avoid all those who could manifest the ability. So fear of meeting The Black Priest, a man whose magical prowess in the realm was unmatched, served to deter many from doing or attempting anything that could be considered wrong, or illegal. Yet, still odd that the force they feared would tear their world apart was truly the power holding it together.
The enigmatic woman reached out, pulling the covers from atop the man in the bad, uncovering his chest. She stretched the same hand out again, laying the palm flat against the surface of the man’s body, leaving it there only a moment. A second later, the Black Priest’s eyes flew open, and turned quickly to her. The grizzled man’s hand darted upward, clasping its fingers around her wrist as his curious stare turned to an intimidating glare.
“Who are you?” The man demanded, eyes fixated on her. “Where am I? Where is the boy?”
“By ‘the boy’,” The strange woman responded, remaining calm despite the crushing grip the priest held her with, “do you mean the bearer of the Mystic Blade of Ice?”
“If you know that much, then you should know where he is.” The priest spat back, beginning to sit up. As he did, the woman pressed down, pushing the man back to the bed with inexplicable power. She saw the startled look fill the man’s eyes as he tried again to rise from the bed, still unable to.
“What is it you intend to do?” The woman asked, continuing to hold the man in place as he struggled. “He has already beaten you. What do you hope to accomplish?”
“So long as I breathe, I am not beaten!” The Black Priest spat back, refraining from struggling further as he turned to meet this woman’s gaze. “I will carry out justice until the day my life wanes.”
“You know what it is they plan to do, right?” The woman questioned, turning her gaze as the man released his grip on her wrist.
“They have the foolish notion that they can defeat The Serpent.” The priest replied.
“You’ve experience the power of one of them firsthand.” The woman stated, turning to gaze back into the judge’s deep black eyes. “Do you think they could?”
“Whether they can or can’t is irrelevant.” The man answered, shaking his head. “It’s forbidden.”
“But if they succeed, this realm will be free.” The woman suggested. “Wouldn’t that be a preferable situation?”
“If they succeed, then they’ll doom us all!” The Black Priest shouted, anger welling behind his eyes as he glared up at the woman. “If The Serpent is slain, then The Dragon King himself will come to enact his punishment on our realm. If The Serpent dies, it will signal our own demise.”
The woman’s lips twisted into a smile, and she pulled back her hand, allowing the Black Priest to sit up beside her.
“You are wise, Priest.” The woman stated, standing as she turned from the room. “Your prey heads toward Nehir, where they hope to discover the location of The Serpent’s Lair.”
“But tell me,” The woman paused, stopping in the doorway to look back at the room. The Black Priest had already risen from his bed. His life and energy restored by her touch, he planned to waste no time before continuing his pursuit.
“You failed once; what will ensure you succeed this time?”
“The ice child surprised me.” The Black Priest responded, gathering up his private arsenal as he prepared to leave. “I wasn’t expecting him to grow in power so quickly. But do not think those children have witnessed the extent of my power. Like one of those boy’s icebergs, they have only seen the tip of my strength.”
The woman grinned, pleased with the response.
“What is your name, Black Priest?”
“What’s it to you, woman?” The Black Priest replied gruffly, sheathing one of his many blades.
“Call it curiosity.”
The priest laughed, shaking his head as he replied.
“Damarion.” The Priest turned, staring back toward the doorway, but found the woman already gone. His eyes darted back and forth, looking for any sign of her, but none remained. He scoffed, arming himself with the last of his tools before he turned to leave as well. In his years as the Black Priest, none had escaped his judgment, and he would not let a group of indignant, self-righteous children be the first.