When Noa sets out to find an explanation to the impossible, her vacant throne becomes the meeting place for rebel factions and conniving tyrants long since ready to wage war. Only the Agency, an organization of highly-trained operatives with supernatural powers, have what it takes to bring her back and restore order to the realm.
But among the Agency's ranks are a man hellbent on revenge; four misfits who don't play by the rules; a duo of reluctant assassins; and an old geezer who's just about ready to hang it up. Not exactly knights in shining armor.
What fate awaits these valiant warriors as they chase the most dangerous woman alive? As they unravel her deepest secrets? As they remember their own dark pasts?
It all goes down tonight. Show Less
The Moon-Child’s War
KNIGHT OF THE MOON
Ch.1 - 16
The Winter Queen tilted her head from side to side as she examined the snow-covered edifice looming before her. For all its height, she might have been the one looking down. With its faded square eyes, its peeled silver skin, its mangled and decrepit form—it looked no different from a peasant on its knees. She straightened up, making regal her own pose. Her leather suit cried from pulling taught, medallions and bracelets chimed melodies about her person, and a lustrous granite-blue coat with a deep-drawn hood fanned behind her in the blizzard’s wind, the face of a Black God grinning from its surface. Was the building taking notes? The Queen couldn’t tell. She wore a patterned blindfold that obstructed her sight, leaving her to guess at things like expressions.
Of course, she was not an entirely pristine visage herself. The newly-bored holes in her coat and swathes of grime on its surface described her arduous journey to get here through the wilds. Her suit wore rips throughout, many in the shape of fang bites and rending claws, and the lower legs had eroded, exposing her shins and feet to the sting of the snow. Hidden beneath the snow was a wolf’s head inked around one of her ankles and a diamond serpent bracelet strapped to the other. Should she deign to step forward, they would supply the final clash of style and disrepair to her habit.
She lifted her head, causing her hood to fly off and setting the tail of the bandage around her eyes loose in the wind, the strands of her hair ablaze. The building almost swayed backwards in fear. Azure hair that seemed to glow; snow-white skin as cold as the surrounding sleet; delicate lips which somehow held vigor... Its daughter, Noa Rylie, had returned.
Thirty-nine winters past, this place had been a house of mass and merrymaking for the Children of Enigma, a group of prophets and worshippers of the late Lady Gineden—the realm’s former sorceress supreme. It was here that the Children foresaw Noa’s coming, and therein, that the seeds of her suffering were planted. They knew they would find an ailing woman wandering the plains one moonlit night, lend her their aid before and after discovering her rounded belly, and then feel the earth tremble from their deeds, heralding the onset of two great waves which would obliterate the populace of Moon Hill. They would then have to protect the newborn baby—the Moon-Child, the very same which would destroy the world over the course of two nights—because their own prophecy demanded it.
She looked up the surface of the chapel’s heavy wooden doors with what might have passed as a keen gaze had her blindfold permitted it. The snowstorm swirled like her inner turmoil; the wind howled the unvoiced question in her head. Why had she returned to this place? Those nobles who had adopted her, the Clandestined, had always said she would find nothing awaiting her if she did. Yet she wondered now as she wondered then: even if she found only ashes, weren’t they ashes for her?
She palmed one of the doorknobs. With a twist and a shove, the titanic door began to come ajar. On the other side was a haunted mouth of darkness with a faded red tongue. The blizzard shoved past her, blasting both doors back, opening the mouth wide and spraying rampantly into its depths. She placed one foot over the threshold, then the other, slowly beginning the long march into the chamber. With a flick of her hands behind her, both doors jumped off the walls and clasped shut, plunging her into darkness.
“Ava diel,” she said in a sublime, mature voice.
It was the Old Tongue, the language of the land from which these islands of Ende had been severed. No one had taught it to her, and she could not recall the first time she had ever used it. Some said she had known it since birth. Her words meant “Good day” in the Tongue, and in this case it was a spell.
Silvery candles suspended from the high-vaulted ceiling came alive; the darkness fled and the grim interior of the chapel lit up. The years had not been kind to the place of her birth. Golden stonework, polished benches, and large, elegant balconies—were all either dull, weathered, or had collapsed. In addition, vines had begun to climb the walls. Baby mushrooms sat in the corners and beneath every seat. Along the faded red carpet, the beams of light from the ceiling illuminated pieces of wood, shards of stone, and other debris upon which a few feathery flakes of snow drifting down the beams’ tendrils had started to coalesce.
It might have been strange that there were not even skulls left to recount what had last happened here, except that shortly after the candlelights took form, a pair of massive wings flapped vigorously beside Noa and a tall, shadowy shape leaped from her side into the corner of the ceiling just over her head. It was a beastie: a devil that roamed the wilds. Large, winged, feathery and feral, it snarled down at Noa in feigned offense, baring yellow fangs stained with evidence.
She might have been deaf as well as blind for all the attention she gave it. Even those less-traveled knew that acknowledging a Shyowl by looking upon it was the fastest way to draw its fury. Sure enough, as she strode past the creature, it settled itself down, comfortable with the lack of attention. The pillars to the balconies on either side of the chapel pulled back like curtains as Noa neared the dais. Four panels of stained glass surrounded this slightly raised circle of stone. Most panels were shaded blue since their depictions occurred at sea, and thus cast a strobe of lights across the room similar to patterns on an ocean floor. From the left to the right, they told the story of Lord Godden of Dogma and Lady Gineden of Enigma, the founders of the Children of Dogma and Children of Enigma creeds, and their decisive confrontation in the First Days. Since it was a tale told throughout the realm, even Noa knew it by heart. She placed her sealed gaze upon each of the panels in succession while narrating it in her head.
The first panel of stained glass showed Lord Godden, the Black God: a ferocious-looking man dressed in black armor with an upside-down, sneering face. He held a great lance over the heads of one of the magi clans who had first inherited Ende’s sentence, a sorrowful group robed in red kneeling at his feet. The story went that Godden had fought alongside these brothers in the battle before exile, and again with them in an attempt to tear down the Cloud Wall, the latter battles forging him into the warrior now spoken of in legends. But, unable to defeat the Wall—and drunk with power besides—Godden initiated the exodus of his own kin in a fit of rage. He was the reason for virtually every ruin scattered throughout Ende, as well as the scarcity of its population.
The second panel of glass showed Lady Gineden rising to confront Godden. She was a bombastic figure, round and genial, dressed in an all-white silk battle gown that contrasted with Godden’s black metal suit. She was also of mysterious origin. In the image, her dress blended with the sea at the hem, indicating one possible place from which she might have come. Others said she was a ghost of a time long past, and still others said she was the Cloud Wall made manifest. The truth was that no one knew for sure, or those that did remained silent. This was what gave rise to Gineden’s battlesake: the Lady of Enigma. In the panel she led a caste of her own against Godden and his followers—her army in blue, his in their red; hers valiant, his terrified—with the intention of tearing him down from his echelons.
Noa’s jewelry ceased their songs as she came to a halt before the dais, facing the third window with hugged brows. This panel held her gaze much longer than the others, and not because of the explicitness of its depiction.
On a backdrop of what was either a wide blue sea or an open sky, Lady Gineden stood naked beside the Black God, surrendering herself into his arms. She had lost the war. She had robbed Godden of his army, had gone through a cluster of trials to earn a glorious weapon of her own—a sword of some fashion, the legends said, though the panels never showed it—but despite this, there were obstacles about the demigod even she could not overcome. Specifically, that Great Zircon lance.
It was the same massive object Godden held above his head in the first panel, and at the ready for close-quarters in the second. More catalyst for triumph than weapon, it had been passed down to Godden from generations of peerless warriors, none of whom had inherited it at the previous master’s behest. With it, Godden had acquired the same chaos and carnage that had shadowed those warriors in their days. So long as the Great Zircon was at his disposal, the battle was at a stalemate at best.
Yet, in that third image, the weapon was nowhere to be seen. Godden actually seemed to have forgotten it altogether. The woman in his arms, once his nemesis, now his betrothed, was his only concern in Ende. Even his upside-down face seemed to sneer less viciously than before, as if it were struggling to express infatuation. Gineden eyed the fourth image foretellingly.
Noa carried her gaze to the final window. Behind and above her, the Shyowl strafed along one of the rafters for a better view.
In this panel the Lady stood behind Godden, hugging him around the throat with one arm. The other arm? That was hidden behind his back, skewering him through his core with the Great Zircon. Godden’s body arched upward and forward, strained in punishment; dead. The blue hues that had dominated the majority of the previous three panes were replaced with vivid scarlet here, bathing the right edge of the chapel in bloody light.
It had all been a ploy. The Lady had gotten closer to Godden physically and emotionally only so that her cunning was not obstructed by the Great Zircon. Once effectively deluded, he was finished off with the very thing that had made him invincible. Whether she had truly felt anything for the man or not, no one ever knew; what mattered was that she had pulled Ende single-handedly out from under a ruinous monarchy. Some stories called the Black God a fool for falling for the trick, while others considered him an object of his own fate and described him with sympathy. He remained a deity in all his tales, never reverting to just a man.
No panels described what happened afterward, but Noa knew that as well. The Lord was buried in the sea along with his weapon, which many an adventurer would attempt to scavenge to no avail. The Lady, meanwhile, disappeared as she had come. Both the Children of Enigma and Children of Dogma arose to honor their memories; the Children of Enigma in honor of their Lady, the Children of Dogma—those high-ranking nobles from Purgia, the Clandestined—to spit on their Lord. If they wore his face on the back of their cloaks, it was only to remind themselves of the consequences of failure. His throne stood atop the Great Pyramid Vault in wait of a true Black God.
Noa’s faux gaze fell on the dais, where behind the circular podium on which a speaker was meant to stand, a replica stood of the two lovers embroiled in their last act. Godden was poised on his toes looking to the heavens in death, while Gineden lurked behind him, staring murderously at Noa. The Lady was a thing of pure white marble, chipped from age; the opposite of the black obelisk grained with luminous metal that she clutched. Noa touched her stomach while returning that evanescent stare. The statue was a once-reminder to any who attended mass that the Lady was the one responsible for the relative peace the islands were now experiencing, as well as the hardship she endured to achieve it, but Noa believed she understood the Lady’s pain better than any of the Children of Enigma; better than anyone, perhaps, who had heard the tale. That third panel betrayed it.
A man’s arms snaked around her nude body. She came under the watch of his gilded, lustful stare; at the mercy of his gentle touch and gentle words, gifts and praises and promises. And...the feel of him. Her skin boiled at the thought, saturated with shame, but she let it. In these memories she was in the arms of the one who would not betray her. There was no fourth panel ahead of them.
Her fingers dug into her stomach. Therein lay her plight. Her war. The roles between traitor and victim had changed: she was not Gineden, holding the cards—she was very much in love, as the Black God had been. Through her naïveté, she had allowed herself to be betrayed by her man. He had betrothed and lain with three other women, then he had played a god within her. She shook her head; she should have expected it. He was always experimenting on humans, so it had only been a matter of time before he made a subject of her as well.
No matter how she thought of it, she was the fool here, not her treacherous husband—Dr. Dragon.
Now she had to ask herself two questions. Should she forgive him and make peace with the new terms of their relationship? Or was she the Moon-Child again, alone, dueling fate? Her veiled gaze shifted between Gineden and Godden as she wondered which would understand her better. Before long, she had lost herself in their story once again.
He pulled his cloak closer around his body in a vain attempt to deflect the stabs of wind. The all-black suit and tie he wore underneath the cloak were perfunctorily the wrong choice of wear for this kind of weather. He replaced his binoculars around the bridge of his nose, just beneath the red jewel on his forehead. Through the circular upper window of the chapel on Moon Hill, he saw the Moon-Child settle on her knees before the statue of Godden and Gineden and fall still in meditation. No changes to her activity seemed to be on the horizon.
The man whipped out his phone, a large pebble with a luminescent screen that revealed it was already three hours past sundown, and rapidly punched a sequence into the plastic digits at its base.
There came two short rings, then—bip. “Speak,” said a female voice.
“This is Ex from Moon Hill,” he said in his own gravelly tone. “Target is stationary.”
“Copy that, Agent Ex from Moon Hill. May we engage?”
“Not recommended. Weather’s being a witch in her favor.”
“Then report to the director as soon as possible. I’ll advise all teams to keep their distance. Agent Rail, out.”
“Hang on, captain—not all teams. You know we’ve got to eliminate our competition sooner or later. Send in those guys.”
The female voice made an exasperated sound before the line went dead. Ex merrily tucked away his phone.
He stared at the chapel for a few moments more, turning over the now useless binocular in his hands. “What are you doing, old girl?” he thought aloud. “What’s going through that twisted brain of yours?”