“Dude, check her out!” Kalme said, nodding toward the woman walking into the bar.
As is customary when someone says something like that, Chad looked toward the door. What he saw was a woman wearing a tattered cloak with shadows writhing in the air around her. Her dark skin gave almost no reflection in the torchlight, which made her ice-blue eyes seem like knives cutting through the room. One by one, the room grew quiet as they noticed her presence.
A small man, wearing simple black pants and a leather vest over his linen shirt scurried his way around her into the establishment, climbing onto a table in the center of the room.
“Ladies and Gentlemen!” he boomed impressively for his size. “Presenting, her Vile Darkness, Lady Elizabeth!”
Kalme looked to Chad, a curious expression on his face as the room exploded into applause. “What the hell is that all about?”
“I dunno,” Chad replied, clapping along slowly. “I haven’t the foggiest what the hell that means.”
“Something pretty to look at for once in this shit hole, though, eh?” Kalme said, elbowing him.
“She’s beautiful, but probably someone that you don’t want to approach,” Chad replied. “The Vile Darkness title seems a bit offputting.”
“It’s probably to scare off riffraff, you know the type,” Kalme said, “I’m going to get another round and talk to her minstrel.”
“I wouldn’t,” Chad said, shaking his head as he took a swig from his mug.
Kalme was already at the bar next to Elizabeth’s servant, chatting him up merrily. Chad watched the servant shake his head vigorously three separate times before Kalme locked elbows with him and dragged him over to the table.
“This is Albert, servant to the Lady,” Kalme said, pulling out a chair for him.
Chad watched Elizabeth move to a corner of the room and take a seat. Though she wasn’t far from the fire, the entire area of the inn seemed to darken along with her. The barkeep walked over and spoke to her, albeit briefly, before turning away pale and shaking.
“So, what’s her deal?” Kalme asked Albert.
“Listen, good sir, as I said at the bar, the Lady is not one to be trifled with. I can promise you, if she is interested, you will know as she will instruct me to inform you,” Albert replied.
“Aw, come on, man! It’s all good fun trying to pick up a woman like that,” Kalme said.
“It’s all fun and games until she,” Albert paused and coughed, “obliterates you.”
Chad watched another man from the bar ready himself in preparation for approaching Elizabeth.
“Kalme,” Chad whispered, tapping on the table.
Kalme and Albert turned to watch as the man smoothed his hair, straightened his shirt, and strutted over. The man’s back was to the table, so the trio didn’t see his face, but the Lady seemed completely unmoved, her lips almost imperceptibly moving for a few seconds. The barkeep walked over, carrying a silver chalice embedded with jewels as the man turned around, glassy-eyed to a fault, as though he didn’t see the room in which he stood. The man walked toward the door, stripping every article of clothing until he opened it and stepped out into the snowstorm. A few men from the man’s table jumped up and ran out the door behind him, one of them kind enough to collect his things on the way. They slammed the door and were gone.
“Since when did Greg have a cup like that?” Kalme asked.
“That cup belongs to her Ladyship,” Albert said as Elizabeth locked eyes with Chad. He fell silent for a moment and turned to address Chad. “The Lady is requesting your presence, sir.”
“The Lady didn’t say anything, Albert,” Kalme chuckled into his mug.
Chad rose from his seat as though under a spell. He was only vaguely aware of his legs carrying him toward the dark creature in the corner of the room. He reached out and pulled up a chair before sitting. Only then did it truly sink in where he had moved.
“What’s your name?” Elizabeth asked. Once again, her mouth barely moved, but her voice washed over Chad like sirens on an icy shore. He felt a shiver travel up his spine.
“Chad Palmer,” Chad replied, bowing his head, and though he tried, he was unable to avert his eyes. “What is this?”
“I want to know more,” she said, leaning forward in her chair. She placed her elbows on the table as Chad felt an incredible pressure in his head. Almost instantly, the tension vanished. “Interesting.”
“What’s interesting?” Chad asked, finally blinking his eyes. They burned as though he hadn’t blinked in a month as he crossed a desert. “What did you do?”
“I tried to read your history. Usually, it’s effortless, you see. I press, your mind breaks, and I find any answer I want inside your mind,” Elizabeth said, extending a hand toward him. “You, however, are something different. What are you?”
“I-I’m Chad,” Chad replied, unable to think of anything else he could be. “I-I’m a simple man. Not much for the drink, or pursuits of the flesh-”
“Is that what the priest calls it?” Elizabeth asked, a single eyebrow raising as she spoke.
“I-I’m so sorry!” Chad said, lowering his gaze to the table as he almost pressed his forehead into the wood. “That was improper. I shouldn’t have-I didn’t mean-”
A cold finger slid under his chin, pulling him back up. Elizabeth’s face was significantly closer to his than he remembered a moment ago. She had seemingly slipped around the table in an instant. She led his upper body so close to hers that he could feel the shadows licking his skin.
“I like you,” she whispered. “I think I’ll keep you.”
“What?” Chad whispered in response, “I-I’m not sure what that means.”
Elizabeth let him fall back into his chair. He didn’t even realize that he had lifted off it. A tease of a smile curled at the corner of her mouth, and she twirled her fingers before him. Within her hand, a small blue orb spiraled, pulling shadow into it until there were stripes of both within it.
“Have you ever practiced magic?” Elizabeth asked, rolling the orb around her hand as though it were some kind of child’s toy. “Have you ever tasted real power?”
“N-no,” Chad replied, feeling sweat beginning to bead on his skin despite the chill in the air around him. “I don’t know any-”
In one swift movement, Elizabeth leapt from her chair, throwing her legs on either side of him. With one hand, she pulled his hair, wrenching his head back. As he tried to scream, her other hand shoved the swirling ball into his mouth and slammed it shut.
It flowed like water and felt like fire as it poured down his throat. He felt something pulling itself down into his stomach before it stretched itself out and began spreading through his muscles. His body shook violently as Elizabeth looked into his eyes, a wicked smile on her face.
“Don’t fight it,” she whispered, relaxing her grasp on his hair. “You will be mine, and no one else’s, forever.”
The cold climbed his spine, stopping at the base of his skull. He felt it prodding around as though it couldn’t find its way. Sharp stabs made his head rock from side to side until he heard a sickening crack, and pain exploded on the back right side. The cold washed over his mind, clouding his vision, and taking control of his body.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “Embrace it, and you will know true power!”
The room faded, and something else appeared in his vision. Something wretched and slimy slid its way across a stone floor toward him. Its glowing blue eyes were boring into him as though it wanted to consume him. Chad looked around the room for the door but found the stone made up the walls, ceiling, and floor. There was no escape for him.
“Take what I have given, and the world will be yours. I only ask a small tithe,” the creature hissed as it stopped at Chad’s feet, staring up at him.
“I didn’t ask for power,” Chad replied as he looked around.
“But power you have, a power I seek. I will give you more power in trade. Your power will be replaced a hundred-fold!” the creature said, edging closer to him. “Simply allow me in, and all will be yours.”
The creature rose from the floor before him, something vaguely human-shaped, but thin and sickly dripping some unknown fluid.
“No.” Chad took a step back.
“No?” the creature repeated. Its eyes seemingly igniting in a blue flame. “You would deny Karael, Keeper of the Cold, their prize!?”
“I-I didn’t ask for it,” Chad replied, finding his back against the stone.
The creature dropped to the floor in a puddle and squished its way toward him.
“Then you shall perish, and I’ll take your power from you by force. It will be mine!” Karael screamed.
The sight of the creature moving toward him with its fiery blue eyes was terrifying at first, but the wall behind him, wherever he touched, it felt warm. He walked down the wall, keeping just ahead of the creature. His hands ran over the stone until an almost entirely hidden seam ran under his fingers.
“No!” Karael cried as Chad’s nails dug into the stone and pulled.
As though made of paper, the walls tore away, revealing a massive fire vortex swirling around them. Karael screamed in pain as the fire moved closer, igniting small pieces of him.
“I’ll find you! I’ll find you and kill you for this!” Karael cried as it folded over itself, becoming smaller with each iteration.
The firestorm blinked out, and Chad found himself sitting in the chair at the inn once more. Elizabeth was on the floor ten feet from him, the shadows surrounding her, making some sort of lattice wall between them.
“What are you?” she asked as she beckoned for Albert with a hand. “How did you do that?”
“I-I don’t know,” Chad said, looking down at the steam rising from his legs. When he held out his hands, radiant light emanated from his skin. It grew brighter and flashed as he screamed, “what’s happening to me?”
When Chad opened his eyes, Elizabeth was gone, as was Albert. Most of the patrons had run from the building leaving Kalme and Greg by the bar looking confused and terrified, respectively. Kalme ran toward him, skidding to a halt at his side as he lifted him from the seat.
“What the hell was that!” Kalme beamed. “What did you do?”
“I-I don’t know,” Chad said, looking down at his hands. There was no trace of the light, leaving them unmarked. “What happened?”
“I thought she was going to kill you, man! You were flopping beneath her like a fish, and she was cackling as she held you down. Then, out of nowhere, white light poured from your eyes, and she went flying across the room,” Kalme said. “Where did you learn that?”
“I-I don’t know how to-”
“It’s the angel in you. You’re a half-breed,” a voice said, drawing Chad’s attention to the entrance where a massive man stood, his platinum hair nearly brushing the beams above him. His voice held so much bass in them that the walls seemed to resonate with it, and his eyes were a brilliant gold. He wore armor Chad had never even read about in a book. Not even a king could hope to wear raiments as glorious. At his hip, a massive blade that gave off the same familiar white light. “Hello, brother.”