I have good news and bad news. The good is that Two Hunters has been rebranded to “Ambrosia”. It’s the same story of Nell and Culvir. The bad news, this will be the last chapter of it on MoD. More good news: Ambrosia: a tale of two hunters, will be my first self-published work. I’m aiming at releasing it on Amazon for reading on Kindle.
So for those of you that have kept up with Nell’s adventures here’s a taste of how the story is taking off towards the fall of the Lich Lord Helos. Those that are new to the tale can read the early chapters in my Public folder or by browsing the blog. –Enjoy
Part 16 – Master
Nell woke slow and deliberate, pushing away the haze of sleepiness. She sat up and relished the sensation of being fully rested. Culvir sat with his arms crossed at her side. He was stone asleep and managed to stay rigid and alert at the same time. Nell wore a cotton shift, comfortable and fairly modest.
Nikidas’ gentle snore disrupted her thoughts. He lay face down and sprawled over her legs. She ran a hand through his mane of black hair. It didn’t faze him.
I have two knights. Nell let Nikidas sleep. Wide wake or not, she had nothing to hurry to. She only wished to enjoy the moment.
Culvir opened his eyes, recognition trickled into his gaze, and he pushed himself to a stand. “Good. About time you woke up.”
“Sorry to worry you,” Nell said.
“I wasn’t worried. You’re not a weakling, so I knew you’d be waking up.”
Nell’s smile faded. Oh. Right. He can’t worry about me. Because of—
Culvir presented a glass marble to Nell, black and sinister looking. She raised her hands cupped and accepted it. The marble stung her senses on contact.
“This is the corruption Helos inflicted upon you?”
“But shouldn’t this be inside of you still?”
“Sonnie took it out,” Culvir said. “Looks like I owe that bastard some thanks.”
Nell closed her hand around the glass marble and studied it with her spirit. A part of Culvir lie within it, counter-balancing the evil that festered within. Culvir’s flesh struggled in a perpetual war to conquer it, and as such it acted as a vessel for Necromancy.
“I– I know what I can do with this,” Nell said. “I’ll need help though, my master would know. He’s the only man alive that can make stones like this.”
“You’re right about that,” Culvir said, irritation sat plain on his face.
The door burst open. An old man strode in, clad in colorful robes. He walked with the support of a gilded staff decorated by an array of stones of all colors, but was not stooped with age. Topel was not a handsome man, he had an ugly over-sized pink nose peppered with bumps and his sparse beard looked perpetually scraggly.
“M—Master Topel? Nell gaped, wide eyed. “What are you doing in Terra?”
“When I heard my adorable little protégé fell ill,” Topel said, “I came running. Well, not running, but you understand. You look amazing Nell, you look so well rested and delectably sexy.”
Nell flushed red. Business as usual for him.
Culvir watched the old man like a hawk watching a mouse.
Topel approached regarding Nikidas with a bright grin. “That boy has fine taste in pillows, there’s no finer resting place than the lap of—”
“Master, please.” Nell said.
“Always ‘master’ could you not call me Eurydice here and there. I’m hardly over on hundred, young and sprightly if I say so myself.”
“You are her teacher,” Culvir said. “She owes you respect as you owe her the courtesy of not ogling her.”
Eurydice Topel rolled his beady black eyes. “I’ll resist. Her best assets are covered by the blankets after all, though I have no complaints about what I can see now.”
Nell let out a small whine. “Master.”
“Fine, fine. I’ll behave.” Topel raised his staff and bopped Nikidas on the back of his head.
Nikidas woke with a start, rubbing the back of his head. He stared at Topel, narrowing his eyes. “I must be dreaming. A frog man?”
“How rude.” Topel said, cackling. “I am many things, but a frog?”
“Nikki,” Nell said, giving Nikidas a squeeze of warning. “This is Master Eurydice Topel. If not for him I would have never graduated the academy.”
Culvir leaned back in his chair, scowling. “I can’t help but wonder what you had to do to get his aid.”
“Culvir. It’s nothing like that.” She paused to consider. “Mostly.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Topel said. “I’ve already been acquainted with Culvir and I already knew Sonnie.”
Nell looked at Nikidas quizzically. “Why did–?”
Nikidas frowned. “Sonnie kept everyone out the whole time.”
“The whole time? How long has—“
“Eight days,” Culvir said. “You’ve been asleep for eight days.”
Nell gasped. Impossible. I should have died a dozen times over. “And you watched over me this whole time?”
“No,” Nikidas said. “Sonnie only lifted the ‘ban’ once Mr. Topel got here. He brought in Culvir sooner to get that thing out of him.
Nell’s stomach sank. “Where’s Sonnie now?”
“Convincing the Association to send more help,” Culvir said.
“That boy is an insufferable bastard,” Topel said, stroking his beard. “However, he had sense enough to leave a scrap of the corruption so we could cultivate it later. It could have killed Culvir, but now we have a means to track and kill a Lich, something that hasn’t been possible for two hundred years.”
“Sonnie, did that?” Nell swallowed hard. “I though he did it to—”
“Use it as a means to blackmail you? Perhaps.” Topel shrugged a shoulder. “Did he succeed?”
Nell only shook her head. But with it out, he has no leverage on me now.
“I owe him one.” Culvir said, straightening. “That’s not blackmail, but I am obligated to pay him back for this. It doesn’t matter how he did it, Sonnie put us in position to kill a Lich.”
“He also took advantage of Nell.” Nikidas muttered.
“He’s not the only one.” Culvir tensed. “Nell, you know about Master Topel’s rituals right?”
“I do. Why?”
“Would he need to use you as a vessel to contain the corruption?”
Nell paused to consider. She had seen Topel contain and store magical energy into stones many times. Each one had been as easy as breathing for him, and he mentioned that the risk had always been internal. “No. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Topel cleared his throat. “It is a special case, Necromantic energy is different in—“
“Master.” Nell leaned closer. “What did you do?”
“He tapped into your latent energies,” Culvir turned his glare at Topel. “The best point to access this is the upper chest.”
Nell blushed a deep crimson. “You molested me in my sleep?”
Topel returned Culvir’s glare. “I assure you my actions were entirely relevant.”
Nell rolled the marble of corruption between her fingers. “It’s true that Master isn’t very strong with magic. If he had to contain necromantic energy he probably fed off my powers as Ambrosia. I may be immune to vampiric corruption, but it still flows within me after I get bit.”
Topel wore a smug smile. “You see? Completely—”
“However,” Nell said, staring him down, “you have a stock of stones to make up for that weakness. As such it makes you more powerful than any living mage. You were just being a dirty old man.”
Topel grinned, unabashed on his discovery. “Well can you blame me? You look so delectable when you sleep.”
Culvir stood from his chair, grabbing a fistful of Topel’s robes. “I can and I will.”
“What’s done is done,” Nell said. Not the worst thing he’s pulled off.
Nikidas gaped at Topel in disbelief. “Don’t tell me you came all this way to take advantage of Nell?”
“No. Of course not. I did save Culvir after all. And there’s also the small mystery of how Nell is still alive.” Topel turned his gaze to her, his eyes turned sharp and serious.
Culvir and Nikidas watched her as well. She had no answer for them. It had been the same as always, dreamless sleep that passed in a blink of an eye. When she slept for too long she dreamed and the dream had always been the same, a swirling mass of darkness inviting her to step inside. She knew what would happen if she did. She would die.
But there had been a dream— a white room. She couldn’t remember the details.
“I don’t know,” Nell said. “I just got lucky.”
“A shame,” Topel said. “You look so beautiful after being well rested. I hoped it had been a means for you to be normal again. A girl needs her beauty sleep.”
“She can’t sleep?” Nikidas said, raising a brow.
Nell shook her head. “I usually cover it up. I meditate instead. I keep my eyes closed and relax. I simply pull myself back when I reach the shore of unconsciousness. I usually have to walk around after two or three times. It gets harder to resist the urge to sleep each time.”
“That’s not healthy. You need to sleep,” Culvir said.
“I don’t have a choice,” Nell said, clenching her hands on the blanket. “If I sleep I won’t wake up.”
“But you did this time.” Nikidas took her hand, squeezing it. He has such a nice grip. Firm and gentle.
“I got lucky,” Nell said. “I can’t risk it.”
Culvir fell into contemplation. He said he knew of Ambrosia, but few knew the details.
“It’s easier for her if she doesn’t sleep alone,” Topel said. “As much as I hate Sonnie, being with him is good for her. Their relationship was very—”
“Master,” Nell said, firm and annoyed. “They don’t need to hear that.”
“Perhaps one of these fine young men would like to fill the role,” Topel said, matching her fire.
Nikidas blushed furiously while Culvir offered a disapproving frown.
Topel let out a noisy sigh. “Both of them have my blessing to be your lover. Both of them have proven themselves in my eyes. Nell, I’ve chosen you to take my mantle.”
All eyes turned to Topel.
“That’s ridiculous,” Nell said. “You can’t trust the Sage mantle to me. I could die tomorrow.”
“Then don’t. My mind is made up.” Topel turned his staff and laid it across Nell’s lap. “The archwand is a toy compared to the staff of sages. I want you to have it.”
“I couldn’t. I won’t.”
“You must,” Topel said, tapping it.
“Nell,” Nikidas said, leaning closer. “He’s right. N—Not about choosing one of us. But I mean— You need to live. You’re too good a person to just slip away. If there’s anything I can do to make that easier.”
“What, like warm her bed?” Culvir said, clenching his jaw. “Nell is a Vampire Hunter, not a sage trainee. She doesn’t mean that she may slip away in bed. She means she could die fighting for what’s important to her. You wouldn’t get that Nikidas, and I don’t blame you for it.”
“Then protect her,” Topel said, smiling. “Something tells me you already planned to.”
Nikidas nodded at that. “I’m going to be a Dragon Knight.”
“What?” Nell’s eyes grew wide. “You couldn’t possibly—”
“It’s already done. I enlisted today,” Nikidas said. “I’ll probably have to scrub stables until I can even look at a dragon. But it’s what I want to do. So until then, Culvir. Keep her safe.”
Culvir eyed Nikidas, sizing him up. “I don’t need some kid to tell me that. I already said I would.”
Nikidas slipped his hand free of Nell’s, stood, and made his way to the door. He paused, placing a hand on the frame of the door. “Next time you see me Nell, I’ll be a man you can count on. It’s a promise.”
He left without another word.
Nell’s heart skipped a beat and a blush crept to her cheeks. I don’t need to wait for that Nikidas. You already are one.
“So.” Topel smacked his leg. “Now we have that out of the way. I have another gift.”
“Another gift?” Nell eyed him suspiciously.
“Since you’re a newly minted sage, you can’t go around wearing those rags can you? You need new robes.”
Nell’s heart sunk and her imagination painted an even skimpier set of robes than the ones hanging on the closet door near her bed. She hadn’t changed her own clothes; perhaps Jamgled had done those honors. Hopefully.