Warmth from the hearth tickled Fen’s face. She sat, lounging in a luxurious armchair placed near the fire. An acidic scent wafted from the wineglass clasped in her scarred, right hand. Her eyes held a distant look, unseeing of the extravagant trappings around her. The room was expensively built from stained oak, with the moldings and doorframe made from a vibrant chestnut.
Gentle firelight bathed the room, reflecting sharply off the varnished wood. Bookcases lined one wall, holding priceless tomes of dangerous knowledge: an exhaustive collection of various treatise on sorcery, an array of historical compendiums, and the not-insignificant works of Fen herself. An array of alchemical equipment lined the wall opposite her library, comprised of elegant silver work-tables, engraved with thick runes of gold. Upon the tables’ surface sat small cauldrons, burning spirit-lamps, mortars full of exotic substances, and various other implements of the practiced alchemist.
Fen’s eyes saw none of this, being fixed on sights far away and long ago, lost to tattered memories of times past. She was recalling the duel that had earned her the honorific name of ‘Telum’. It was a duel that had rung the earth like a bell, shattering cities and armies alike. It had been the least destructive option at the time. The war had gathered enough magical talent to plunge the world into a darkness that it might never recover from. When commanders of both sides finally acknowledged this reality, it was decided that each would pick a champion, and the ten-year war would finally be ended. Decided by the outcome of a duel.
Fen had never learned the name of the man she’d killed in that fateful battle. Thousands had died from that duel, soldiers and civilians alike caught in the wrath of indiscriminate powers. Both sides of the ten-years’ war had been decimated by Fen’s clash with the enemy’s champion. She’d figured then, and it hadn’t changed since, that if she wasn’t going to learn the names of all those dead bystanders, then she had no cause to learn the name of her dead opponent. An opponent that had wielded arcane artifacts, close in power, though subtler by nature, to Fen’s own Blade of Vi Scelerata. The sword whose birth had required the death of a small continent. The clash of forces had been a beauty to behold, and it would forever be a marvel that only Fen had both witnessed and survived. She, the sole survivor of the final clash in the duel that was to end a war. The war had ended, but the cost had been greater than any imagined. Everything within five miles had been obliterated, and destructive havoc had rained upon everything beyond that for another ten. The main forces of both armies had been positioned on either side of the epicenter, where Fen and her opponent had battled. Even if the enemy had no intention of honoring the duel, the outcome had decisively taken that choice away from them.
The cost of that battle, of channeling the full force of her sword, had taken her to a level of pain and corporeal disorganization beyond anything she’d ever experienced, before or since. Very little could kill her, in the strictest sense. She’d long since woven sorceries into her body that inverted its relationship to her soul; making the soul the carrier for the body, and thereby making her body a topology of her soul in truth—one that could be mended and rebuilt. It was one of the ancient secrets of immortality. One of many perilous methods to achieve that greatest of prizes. The soul, by nature, was untouchable to all but its owner by anything but the most skilled and powerful of magics. Anchoring the body within the soul gave the material body an immaterial foundation to reform upon even in the wake of complete material destruction.
Fen Telum drank her wine by the firelight and remembered. Beside her, leaning against the chair, hilt within reach, was a sword. The scabbard was unordained, except for thick, iron clasps that secured over the guard, locking the sword within its sheath. A hungry light danced within the obsidian runes emblazoned upon the weapon’s hilt. Faint whispers of singing—music that bespoke of evils enough to shame the damned—danced around Fen’s silent form as she sat alone, contemplating the past.