A Naga Queen in heart, Mierdred stubbornly fought through the thousands of Nagas to the gates of the Temple, now guided more by anger than necessity - as all Nagas had to come to this contest, whether they wished it or not.
The snow started to fall, but Mierdred ignored it. Her only attention was on the Naga dressed in gold, which stood at the gates, and was announcing the newcomers, and then writing them on to a scroll.
Here the Naga looked upon Mierdred, with unwelcome, cold eyes. She never said anything, but Mierdred understood that she wasn't welcome to win the competition, and get the Gold Queen crown. But she would win it anyway.
She passed the Announcer, slightly bowing her head to her as it was a custom.
Inside the Temple, columns of great white, gray, rose and yellow marble stood, supporting the roof. In the center of the room was a pool, which was currently filled with bright blue waters from the Enchanted Lake of Bracada.
The waters were magical, and some sort of competition was to be completed in it as well, at least as Mierdred thought.
Strangely, not many Nagas were in that Hall, less than anticipated of them ever reached the Temple at all, due to the big mass outside.
Sconces were alighted. The Hall needed specific attention, as some believed it to be a place of worship, left to the Nagas by the gods themselves. Though unknown in the world, the shrine was popular among the Nagas, and everyone knew about its significance. Not one Wizard ever dared to enter these mountains, for death would await him or her on the very footstep of them.
Mierdred sighed as the Gold, and the Silver Circles were all already occupied, and an another Announcer, this time in ruby with black, announced those who were part of the Bronze Circle.
She was surprised to hear her name. The anger caused by Liearn subsided as she crawled through the Bronze Gates for her place.
'This is a shrine place, I suppose.' - she thought. Mierdred never was here before, even though the every ten years every Naga had to come. Mierdred was probably the only one to miss all of them in her life and the reason was never explained, but the other Nagas still hated her anyway.
"You are here, I see," - someone greeted her coldly. Mierdred turned, and noticed an old Naga near the wall, who was looking at her with the usual sword in hand.
"Wilen? I never thought that you would participate," - she whispered.
"Of course I will. It is my duty, isn't it? To protect the children, and to..." - Wilen stopped abruptly. - "You want the place for yourself, don't you?"
"Everybody does. It's not a secret to be kept!"
"An unusual Naga as you are, ha!"
Wilen laughed, and crawled off in parallel direction, as far as possible away from Mierdred, who was sitting and thinking about her words.
'Maybe they are right?' - she thought. - 'Maybe the Empress is fair in her wish to conquer the Wizards? But what good can it do? None!' - she suddenly decided with cold determination. She would get the throne, and if not of the Queen, then of the Empress. One of the two was destined to be hers.
Suddenly, the hissing stopped, and silence descended to the Temple. Even the outside crowds were quiet.
Then in dreadful silence an escort of the Gold Nagas appeared with the Empress herself in the center protected by the Gold Nagas' swords.
She crawled to her place, a throne of white silver, and sat there looking at everybody from the height.
"Let the game begin!" - she at last hissed, her own six, imperial longswords up. - "You were trained to become Naga Queens. You were trained to be the supreme, and you were trained to slay by my command!"
A silence met her words.
"Train again, but this time to fight as soon as you will leave this place. You can never be sure that you will come back, but you'll know that you have died honorably, in battle for the Naga's Gold Crown!"
This time, a loud hiss of all the warrior snakes in the Temple met her, all except Mierdred.
The Empress noticed that, and bowed to speak to a Naga near her throne. Liearn, as Mierdred noticed, was there as well, just to the left of the throne.
The vulture-creature Liearn, stood smiling and looking across all the heads of the three Circles at Mierdred, who shifted uneasily, and leveled her gaze to meet hers.
Three words passed between them:
"You shall die."
"I shall conquer."
This little conversation of minds wasn't ignored by the Empress, because even if she was a bit insane, she noticed in her insanity when her place upon the throne was endangered.
"Start the competition," - she at last whispered, and all the longswords in the room were raised at her words.
The fights among the Nagas were rare, but when they did happen, they happened in silence.
So it was this time as well, in the High Temple. The three circles of Nagas, the Bronze, Silver and Gold were ready to fight, and hissed at each other as though they were deadly enemies from the time of their birth.
Mierdred sighed as she did not want this to happen in such a way.
But the gong had been struck - and the combat began, not even bothering whether or not the combatants themselves wanted it.
Mierdred crawled into a corner of the ring as it was easier there to parry the blows directed to her.
She turned back to see her opponents. And there was only one willing to accept the challenge... and Mierdred's heart squealed when she saw who it was.
The Naga in front of her was her friend, the only one that Mierdred ever had - Aryel, the Naga who never liked to fight, but could give a worthy repulse to an enemy if one would be so stupid to attack her.
The look of surprise changed into a gaze of shock when Aryel saw who was her only and deadly opponent.
The two friends understood one another without any words. The cruel fate's game was vile to send these two in the High Temple as the opponents for the Naga Queen Crown.
And the fight was to be to the death. None could let the other one to live, for the rest would then kill the unfortunate Naga without any mercy, just for her compassion.
Aryel seemed to make a decision, for her six sapiers swinged in the air, aiming for Mierdred's heart.
She hissed painfully, and brought down her own longsword on Aryel, hoping to knock her off the balance.
Aryel guessed her next move, and parried the blow with a strike, which only a Naga could manage to do, pushing Mierdred back so much that she almost fell out of the circle, what would mean true and painless death from one of the Guard Naga's blade.
Mierdred grabbed hold with one of her hands the sharp edge of Aryel's sapier, and held her, not breathing at all, just hoping that Aryel herself wouldn't just slice her through with the other sapier in her hand.
"You are a fool, Mierdred!" - Aryel hissed, not even thinking of using the other sapier of which Mierdred thought about with so much dread. - "A fool who wants the crown for only herself!"
"Who doesn't, my friend?" - Mierdred spoke back, the first blood trickling down by her arm rings, leaving a red path behind.
"We were friends!" - Aryel kept on, not bothering to see that the Empress was silently listening to the exchange. - "Friends, who vowed to keep friendship, to never raise a sapier one against another!"
"I can't do anything, Aryel Zai'enn!" - Mierdred called her by Aryel's full name.
Suddenly, she stopped holding the long sapier, and turned swiftly, her longsword swinging at the unprotected side of Aryel's belly.
Aryel hissed in the anticipation on pain, but held steady even after the blow, sitting on her tail, though wailing. Mierdred slowly took out the blade, which was covered with red blood from the sharp point to the bronze hilt. Aryel's blood, which was red like the fire itself... it was gushing from her open wound.
She fell back, overwhelmed at last by the blood loss, gasping, and struggling to breathe.
Mierdred lifted one last weapon - a type of dagger, but only sharper and longer than one, and pressed it against Aryel's white throat.
"Go ahead. Kill me," - she struggled out, knowing that her end was near.
"Hold!" - the Empress's voice ran through the battle hall, shrill and unpleasant to the ear as usual.
Her golden armor shined in the flickering light of the sconces, sending radiant waves of light at the fresh blood splashes on the hall floor.
"Stop fighting at once!" - the Empress made a royal gesture with her hand, and the fighting between the Nagas stopped.
Aryel looked at the Empress with hatred in her eyes, bleeding openly from the wounds.
'Who would listen to you, witch!' - they both thought, Aryel and Mierdred.
Suddenly, the first Naga grabbed hold of the longblade in Mierdred's hand, and sent it flying through the room, directly at the Empress's heart.
At that time Liearn wailed, seeing the danger to her mistress and also saw the Empress turning to her with a look of surprise on her face.
Exactly then the longblade impacted with the body of the Empress, going right through even the golden armour, and stopping only when meeting the soft, but durable silking covers of the silver throne.
The Empress gasped, exactly like Aryel did a few moments ago, and fell back to Liearn's arms, already dead.
Frowning, Aryel lay down on the cold floor, her body limp, and the swords in her hand fell with her. When this happened, this meant that the Naga was dead.
Mierdred cried out, and in her temporary madness, sent the second dagger flying at Liearn, with the accuracy that an elven Sharpshooter, trained by Gelu himself would envy.
"No!" - was all the victim of the hungry blade could say, and another cold body fell to the ground near the corpse of the Empress, forever leaving this realm.