Quest of the Brokenhearted was a lot of fun to write. Every chapter was a new adventure and fight scene. This tale was inspired by the Castlevania video game series and it allowed me to showcase one of my favorite characters. Kira Grasdon evolved a lot throughout Legends of Windemere and this allowed me to give her the spotlight along with some closure. Enjoy!
The attendants stand against the windowless wall in a line, most of them remaining perfectly motionless and awaiting orders. Rayne is one of the few who is moving, the elf repeatedly hurrying to Kira and obediently explaining what each dish is. The monsters and competitors are mixed together along the long table, which is covered in a crimson cloth. Sitting at one end, the Shadow Earl has shrunk down to a more manageable size and is flanked by two smooth-edged stone golems. Whenever he wishes to speak to all of his guests, he touches both of the constructs and his voice comes through their gaping mouths. Far across from him is Cyrena, who has no trouble making sure her bellowing words are heard from any distance. Unlike the nobles, the competitors focus on eating and watching for signs of an attack. It is obvious who is used to wearing heavy armor as those warriors are more nervous than the rest, who scan the room with quick movements of their eyes. Surrounded by monsters in a city known for death, all of them silently admit that they feel terribly exposed in their suits and dresses. The tension is made worse when the Gooie Pig begins rummaging for food under the table, the creature’s greedy hunt causing many of the competitors to nearly jump out of their skin.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t convince him to stay out of the room,” Rayne whispers as she catches her pet by the ear. Dragging it away, the elf shoves the beast into a closet and jams a towel beneath the door. “I promise to clean whatever mess he makes. Please don’t punish Lady Grasdon for my mistakes.”
“Always such a submissive and selfless scrap of meat,” Echidna says from her seat near the middle of the table. She stretches her arm to grab her own attendant and snap the creature’s long neck with one flick of her thumb. “That is how you should handle your servants. Never understood why this one gets so much protection. Her smell is nice, but that’s no reason to make her think she’s meant to be here. The thing’s mere presence is a disturbance as you can see by us talking about her instead of the contest.”
“The point of this party is to finally introduce Kira Grasdon to everyone,” the Shadow Earl says, his eyes becoming rimmed with a thick shadow. The abyssal darkness leaks down his face and along his arms to transform into claws that he uses like silverware. “As everyone knows, her encounter with dear Aganippe prevented her from attending the official party. I assume we have all heard the stories as well. A merchant’s daughter from the desert and graduate of the Hamilton Military Academy, which are mildly impressive. One a victory in birth and the other forged by hard work. Yet, the really interesting thing about Lady Grasdon is her prior engagement to the late Luke Callindor. She believed so much in his survival that she lost everything trying to prove her story. That shows a powerful love and dedication that we do not typically see in our competitors. It is unknown if he is truly dead or not since the shadows speak of sightings. My tournament would be infinitely more entertaining if he were to appear, but why hope for the impossible? Even if your fiancée was still alive, he has no idea you are here. Now, do we have any questions for our esteemed guest or one of her less interesting rivals?”
“Goading me into lashing out isn’t going to work,” Kira interrupts while eating what she has been told is venison. The taste and texture are what she remembers, but she still sniffs at every bite to make sure. “You’re right though. If Luke was alive then he would have come to help me by now. Then again, I wouldn’t be here in the first if he never disappeared. No point in discussing scenarios that don’t exist. Go ahead and interrogate me.”
A three-armed man with gills claps all of his hands together before asking, “Who gave you the idea to come here? It is strange that a woman with your reputation and history would challenge Lacarsis. We have never been a high priority for governments and adventurers due to our isolation.”
“That is how it worked until the Shadow Earl became more active in attracting challengers and Lacarsis moved closer to the cities,” the young woman answers while holding out an empty glass. She points at a pitcher of water for Rayne to take, her eyes never straying from the smirking noble. “Duchess Solomon of Serab told me that you were being discussed by the Ralian leaders. With the Baron gone, they’re concerned that you will try to fill whatever void he left behind. You probably know how it is. Rulers get worried about every possible threat and word trickles down to those who think they see an easy path to wealth and fame. As for myself, I didn’t have anything left to live for. Figured I had nothing to lose coming here and trying to kill the Shadow Earl.”
“So, you’re an idiot,” a tall man mutters from across the table. The monsters flanking him are about to attack when they are frozen to their chairs by a powerful spell. “I have no respect for people who can’t get over their grief. My wife and children were murdered by bandits, but you don’t see me trying to get myself killed. I buried them, spent months mourning, and came out of it knowing that I had to do something with my life. Now, I’m here to destroy Lacarsis and make the world a better place for people like my family. It’s a noble goal instead of one that boils down to an elaborate suicide.”
“I think you’re lying!” a woman shouts, startling the ogre on her right. The wide-eyed archer bites on her lower lip while her body shakes with every word. “She openly wants to die while you secretly want to do it. There are many ways to improve the world without taking on this nightmare. I’ve watched both of you fight, so I know I’m right. She’s a charging force of destruction and you’re a wall who refuses to retreat. Not like me. I plan on winning, so I’ll cheat, hide, and do whatever it takes. That’s the only way for me to get what I really want.”
“And that is?” Kira bluntly asks, cutting off Echidna.
“Money, fame, and all of these monsters’ heads on my wall.”
“So, you’re a psychopath with a death wish.”
“Yes to the first part and go kiss a troll to the second.”
“Now, you’re lying.”
“Prove it, fallen princess.”
“Because nobody comes here thinking they’ll be the one person in history to come out alive.”
The woman is about to stand when the Shadow Earl claps with enough force to shake the entire castle. At the same time, Cyrena unleashes a shriek that drives the competitors to their knees where they cover their ears. Blood seeps from their ears until the noise stops, the attendants hurrying over with towels to clean their assigned masters. Ignoring the activity, the rulers of Lacarsis stare across the table at each other and appear to be holding a conversation that only they can hear. Small gestures and facial expressions expose Cyrena’s frustration with her husband, but she eventually smiles and sits with her wings crossed in front of her. The Shadow Earl puts his hands on the golems, which shudder as his nails sink into their bodies. A crimson sigil appears on their chests, the spinning images sprouting three blades that slowly move from side-to-side. Taking his seat, the demon’s arms stretch to allow him to maintain contact with the constructs as they begin to bleed.
“Perhaps this dinner needs some entertainment to calm our nerves,” the Shadow Earl says to a small round of applause. Sighing at how Cyrena pouts, he sprouts a soft tendril that stretches to caress her cheek. “My wife put a lot of work into this party, but it is clear that there is tension in the air. Some of us hate the situation while many of our honored guests believe an attack is imminent. I find it insulting that you would think I would ruin such an event with violence. By the way, we are out of wine and you cannot continue without drinks. Three bottles should suffice, which means we need three volunteers. What do you think, Cyrena?”
“Do what you want as usual,” the harpy mutters while picking at her food.
The Shadow Earl nods before removing his hands from the golems and sending the blades flying. Dividing into three pairs of swords, the weapons hurtle towards the attendants of the chosen competitors. The man and woman who had spoken up do nothing to save their people, who close their eyes and resign themselves to death. Unlike her callous rivals, Kira kicks off the table to roll backwards while drawing her kusari-gama. Knowing she is too far away to reach Rayne, she swings her weapon and stretches as far as she can while the chain extends. She snares the elf’s legs as the confused girl tries to take a step, the unexpected binding working with the awkward heels to send her crashing to the floor. The Shadow Earl is the only one who applauds the rescue while everyone else stares in shock at the vibrating swords that nearly killed the whimpering attendant.