Wilfred

Wilfred stood looking over the ramparts of Windclave. His hand was occupied with tossing a dagger up in the air and catching it. Despite the danger, he was not too keen on monitoring his success. He watched two farmers working their plow across a field. It had been three of them when they started, but since then one had left for some reason or another.

Casting his eye above them, he could see a winged beast flying toward them. It caused Wilfred to put down the dagger on the ground and pick up the crossbow sitting near by. He carefully loaded a glowing bolt into place and whispered, “Windclave needs protection.” The bolt started to glow a faint pinkish hue. Wilfred rested the crossbow on the wall to steady his arm. He took aim at the winged creature, and let the bolt fly loose. It flew across the sky with a whine in its wake till it hit its mark. There was an explosion of fire when the beast and the bolt made contact, and then nothing.

Wilfred put down the crossbow, and picked up the dagger. He went back to watching the farmers plow the field.

“Did I miss it?” asked a small boy running over to Wilfred.

“Yes, but there will be more. Not for a few more days, but there will be more.” Wilfred responded.

“Father, you promised I could see this time,” the boy stomped his feet and scowled.

“Reginald, be patient. When you are older you will realize this is not the type of thing to look forward to.”

Reginald crossed his arms, “You said the same thing about being an Earl. But now everyone refers to me as Lord Reginald. It is great!.”

Awarding of the title, Earl, had not changed much for Wilfred. He still was owner of the same lands, lord over the same people and commander of the same size military. He was pleased his cousin Routh let something trickle down to him, but wished it somehow had been something more than a title. So far it had come with more responsibility and an addition to the Windclave to accommodate the collections and dignitaries he was going to house. Wilfred was not keen that he now was the center for all the spies at Routh’s disposal. Then again who was his cousin to trust with as short a time as three months till his demise.

“I am sure it is, and in three years when you have more responsibilities you can tell me how great it is then.”

“Oh it will be fun, I can tell everyone what to do. And they won’t give you that questioning look as if I have no power.”

“That will not change my son. In the meantime, why not go check with the kitchen and see if they have prepared the bread I ordered them to make for you.”

Wilfred looked out over the wall as Reginald scampered off. He waited till he was out of earshot, then spoke “Fenton, no need to hide now. The boy is gone.”

“As always you anticipate my arrival,” A man covered in a red cloak spoke as he appeared from nowhere. The wind blew slightly at the opening of it letting the sun show a glint of his sword.

“I know you saw my shot, and that you were on patrol. Only a matter of time till you appeared.” Wilfred’s green eyes did not move off from the horizon as he talked.

“Right you are, guess I need to change my methods, becoming too predictable.” Fenton smirked,

“Perhaps. What do you think the odds are the manticores will try to find their friend?”

“I put the odd as not likely. They know our reach and better than to come this way anymore. I have to say I was surprised one showed up today.” Fenton looked out following Wilfred’s gaze. “You told your son another will come in a few days.”

“Sorry, thought I saw something.” Wilfred turned to Fenton. “I said that to keep the pup from complaining longer. Any word on more riders from the Emperor? I think we were shorted in the handouts of wealth some days.”

“Shorted is right, though it could be that you are a sorcerer or that you have a larger trove of enchanted items than the other earls.”

“Well I gladly would have given up some of it to trade places with another earl and have less of the manticores.”

“My Lord, would you really given up your brother’s lands he left you on his deathbed?

“He did this as a joke. My sister and Earl Fancy Pantaloons have the other half his lands on the other side of the mountain pass. That is nice fertile soil, and even has a few watch towers built outside the keep. We have to keep watch in the sky as we try to turn grain from the stone under our feet.”

“How many men do you think we need to take out the manticores?” Fenton asked, trying to steer the conversation.

“About a hundred more than what we got, if they are trained in that sort of thing. I estimate about ten nests currently up in the peaks, but we need to strike them all at once. If they get wise to us they will up and move their nests elsewhere in the same mountains.”

Wilfred and Fenton looked out toward the fields, where a white bird had just taken flight.

“There is lone rider from the Emporer coming. We had best make them feel welcome,” said Wilfred.

“You know it is a request for another item from our vaults,” Fenton teased.

“Always is,” Wilfred shot back.

Wilfred headed down to his chambers to properly receive the messenger. He winced with every step down the stairs as his left knee complained. It had been hammer during a fight two summers back that had caused the problem and still it showed no sign of improving. Wilfred had led a company of men to take on an ogre terrorizing some of his farmers. The ogre had brought along his goblin allies the day of the encounter and it was not a pretty outcome. Wilfred had escaped with only two others, while the ogre was slain with many of his goblins, he would hardly say either side won the encounter. So Wilfred slowly made his way down the stairs to his chambers, periodically cursing a long dead foe.

At the bottom of the stairs, Wilfred heard someone clear his throat. He turned to see an old man that came up to his chest. The old man’s grey hair was shoulder length and a mess, covering over one of his blue eyes. The man was clean shaven, and wearing long blue robes with a large golden vee embroidered on it with a dog or wolf above the right side and an owl above the left side. “Master Wilfred, a moment of your time, if it pleases you.”

“Be quick and walk with me as I am in a hurry,” Wilfred replied to the stranger.

“My name is Simon I represent a group of concerned people regarding the manticores. Is it not possible to slay the beasts and be done with the threat to the city? I saw you take down one today and it is not more than ten days since the last you took down by our accounts. And that is not counting for the attacks you or I may not be aware of…”

“Good Simon, I see you are from the Brotherhood of Osai, and I respect your rank. However I do not have a force at my command to go forth and deal with such things.” Wilfred did not make further eye contact, but did keep a pace to match his urgency, but still respect the mobility of Simon.

“I had heard rumors of such and would like to make available members of my order to bolster your abilities.” Simon smiled as he calmly spoke.

“How many do you have to offer and what is my cost, err donation to be?”

“Your donation would be use of land with in your fine city to build a new sanctuary. We will provide seventy able fighters and twenty scouts to help in the endeavors. This would also leave you to call upon us in the future should the need arise without further need of generosity on your part.”

“I see,” Spoke Wilfred as he got to the gate of the inner keep. “I must make ready for meeting someone else, may I contemplate your offer for the rest of the day?”

“Naturally, I understand your decisions cannot be made on the whim of the hour. I shall request a formal audience with you on the morrow and we can discuss then.” Simon bowed deeply his hands pressed together then spread apart by the length of his arms.

“As you can see my lord, the Emperor is not asking that you share the items in your vault, but give an accounting of them so he may divide up his resources fairly.” The messenger spoke as Wilfred looked over the papers.

“Yes, but the other Earls, are they giving similar accounts?”

“Of some, others like Herald and Natalya have no significant holdings coming from where they do.”

“My sister’s husband, Francis, is he giving an inventory of their lands?”

“The Emperor has made a request to them as well, my lord.”

“Can you give me an incentive to harboring more of his highness’s belongings here? So far I have part of a library, a score of archers, and some pretty pictures. Other than that I am at a loss as to what help I may expect by turning over a inventory of my vaults to him.” Though calm, the frustration in Wilfred was on the cusp of release.

“It is his desire for a fair division of power among the earls.” replied the messenger

“And he has advisors that can compare the value of a hundred men and mounts against a crystal that lights a room?”

“I am not privy to such knowledge, I am just the carrier of the message.”

“Yet you know he has made requests of the other Earls?” Asked Wilfred.

“Yes, as I am the one who delivers such documents.” The man replied, shifting his weight back and forth between his feet.

“And do you ride with their responses?” pressed Wilfred,

“My pardon, sir. I am humbly presenting that which I am asked to. If you would like I can return a message or request when I depart in the morning.”

“Very well, I shall draft something for your return trip. You, however, will be confined to the quarters for your stay, let your guards know if you need anything.” Smiled Wilfred. He motioned for one of his men to take the messenger away.

“Send in the next person,” ordered Wilfred

In came a bearded man cloaked in dark green clothing.

“And how can I help you today good sir?” asked Wilfred.

“It is I who can help you with your frustrations, Please listen to my suggestions” spoke the man. “I pose a way to assist you off of the emperor’s wrist. With short supplies you are in need of allies. I see manticore aboun’ but no help from the crown. I have legions in waiting for those who act without hesitating. Simply agree to follow plan and I will take nothing but loyalty from you clan.”

“Is it treason you speak in front of me and my men?”

“What men do you see where could they be?” smiled the man.

Wilfred looked around at the empty hall, “What magic are you pulling trickster?”

“I only show power so you know others will cower. You fret for your people as you feeble. I shall lend you my power to protect this tower. Mind you that if I am rejected your lands will go on dejected.”

“Yet you not introduce yourself?” Wilfred responded. “You ask me to name loyalty as a fee for your services and I already have made said agreement with the Emperor. I know the politics of his land, yet in yours I have the disadvantage. Could you ease my concerns on any of this I could contemplate an alliance.”

“Kelpie is my name and eventually you will know its fame. I honor my friends gift as it is their station I lift. Things take time I understand, tell no one else of this is my demand. I await your answer tomorrow’s eve, do not try me to deceive.”

Before Wilfred could respond, Kelpie was gone. The next thing Wilfred could recall was being roused in his chair, and told he had passed out after the messenger had left the room and only mere moments had passed.

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Herald

Herald had not heard about the Prophecy of Routh till he became an Earl, but then again there was much Herald had not heard of. Herald was a curious fellow. He had somehow amassed a great fortune, been given the title of Earl and met the woman of his dreams in the span of four years. If you had asked anyone that had known him prior to that point if this would this happen to him, they would have broken down in laughter. The laughter was not at his ineptness to achieve any of it, but from his lack of drive to move beyond what was dictated by his parents. Prior to this, at the young age of thirty-two, Herald had not put forth the work to amount to more than the successor to his father’s dairy farm and maintain less than the status quo.

He was now Herald, Earl of Hearthvale. with a wife named Glinda twelve years his senior and more interest in running the land than him. She had originally accepted his proposal to improve her status in life, and had since realized a job governing suited her. Glinda accepted Herald’s faults as he somehow always lead her to a new discovery of what she was capable of. For example she took the birthing of two children as a challenge she was willing to take on in this time as well.

The appointment to Earl came as a shock to Herald, and was only his by luck of owning the land the farm was situated on. There was a big ceremony and some mumblings of it being in accordance with the prophecy. What he did know was he missed tending to the cows and roaming the pastures watching after them. Now he wandered courtyards slowly, listening to advisors updating on the status of his lands. Given the option he would have taken the cows.

It was now half a year till the prophecy was to pass and the Hearthville Keep was turning more into a castle as more activities were centralized here. Today he was to receive a company of the Routh’s elite men-at-arms. There captain, Yarden, was waiting in chambers for Herald to arrive. He had been briefed by Glinda on what was expected of him, but Herald still hesitated before entering.

He pushed open the doors to see someone standing in ceremonial silver armor waiting his audience. Herald took in the old fellow, noting the thick red hair on his head running down to his neck. From what he could see, he was from the Prowkin, a race of nomads with pointed ears on top of their head, light red hair covering the entire body, and a short pronounced snout. They were often found in service of the mercenary armies. Herald, had not been prepared for this to be his first encounter with one.

“My lord, I am here on behalf of his Highness, to serve.” Yarden bowed, then continued, “If you could direct me to the quarters my men and I shall be residing in?”

“Well met, Sir Yarden,” Herald responded. “Yes if you will follow me, I shall show you to the barracks.” Herald was aware he fumbled what should have been slightly more eloquently said. Also he was now aware he had taken on the duties of one of his pages, he looked for some way to recover. Then spoke up, “I trust your travel here was pleasant.”

“Yes, my lordship. The ride was very scenic, it reminded me of my homelands. I have not seen them in years, but still the vast fields bring back memories.”

Herald felt more at ease with that response; he noted Yarden seemed less tense. “I envy your adventurous spirit; I have never left these lands, as they do provide a certain peace and serenity. I hope the future does yield more of the same.”

“It was not adventure that leads my travels, but a desire to bring wisdom back to my people someday. In ten more years I will be expected to return and relay the wisdom life has handed.”

“What legacy do you leave to your children?” asked Yarden .

“I leave them this,” Herald gestured to the surroundings. “Also the lesson that life will surprise you in the ways you least expect. I had expected to raise cattle on this land. Then thanks to a prophecy I was unaware of, I was told Routh urged to build a keep on these lands. It went on to say something like elevate their owner as he will tend to the people as well as he did the lands. I did raise some of the best dairy cows here, and now with the right team I believe that I can do the same of the people I am charged with.”

The two continued their banter the rest of the way of the barracks. Herald felt that Yarden had warmed up to him and had dropped so many of the formalities he had started with. Bahn, one of Herald’s advisors, was at the barracks to take over the formalities. He politely took over the orientation, leaving Herald again by himself.

Herald walked over to the corral where the cows were now kept. He smiled looking at the small herd, he still knew a few of them from his prior life. It had been simpler then. Not so many names to remember, bargaining was which baker or cheese maker he would work with that year, and he had a nice simple roof over his head. Then the messengers came, followed by the representatives, and then the officials. The to do was beyond his desires for simple.

“Herald,” a voice called from behind him, “Did all go well with the commander?” he turned to see Glinda.

“Yes, my dear. We had a lovely chat. I suppose you need me to attend to another matter now?

“Um, no. I actually wanted to remind you of your riding lessons this afternoon. We must be able to present ourselves properly to the other earls and from what I hear they can all ride.”

“Well then I had best scamper off to do so,” Herald smiled and sauntered off. Glinda was trying to make him look good in front of the other Earls when they met in the next year. He knew himself clueless of such things and this was why he had sought out a daughter of one of the former Empress’s maids.

His thought process was interrupted by a loud crash, it came from over by the stables.

As Herald ran over to see what was caused, he heard the sound of hooves racing across the ground, and a weird light emanating from the direction of the stables. When he arrived he saw the roof caved in and a man cloaked in dark green floating above the damage. The bearded face was scanning the crowd, smiling as the number of onlookers increased. In a raspy voice he started to speak, “Be known that on this day, you are marked the first to fall. Try to get out of my way, And still I will come to call. Swear allegiance now to me, Speak not aloud. Your bonds I shall set you free, Come now, do not be so proud.”

“I Herald, Earl of Hearthvale, command you to leave,” Herald spoke up. “You need not make me cower in my own keep.”

“Well met Herald, lord. I see you choose not with Routh to cut the cord. Be known that you chose this fate. My forces make ready to destroy your state.” And with that the figure disappeared.

“What was that?” Many asked wondering still what happened.

“My lord, a word please,” Yarden made his way over to Herald. “Do you know who that was?”

Herald turned to Yardem, “I do not, other than he shall be back to attempt to take these lands.”

Yarden guided Herald away from the crowd before speaking. “I do not know who he is. I have heard word is he has visited at least four of the other Earl’s lands. Each reports to have declined his offer as you have. I suspect he will visit the other ten soon enough.”

“Does the Emperor fear he has something to do with the prophecy?” Herald asked.

“I cannot say his thoughts on this. I can assure you, he will reward you for making your voice heard by your people. Hopefully his favor will keep you and your people safe.”

“It is not his favor I seek, only the peace be kept in these lands as long as it may,” Herald replied.

“You are new to politics, aren’t you?” Yarden smiled. “You need his favor more than you know. Do not worry though, you have another half a year to get the hang of it. Just be a fast learner…and always watch your back.” Yarden politely bowed and headed off.

*****
“Herald, I would be careful of Yarden,” mused Glinda. “He already has the trust of his loyal men. Do you think it good to let him have your ear as well?”

“Do not worry about him, he is just keeping me apprised of things I am not. He has no ambition of rising to a trusted advisor. ” Herald leaned over and kissed Glinda, “Besides, as my lady you have say in such matters too.”

“As your lady?” Glinda snarked. “Herald I do not think you would handle all this without me. If I left it all to you, how would you handle all the daily quibbles? You cannot keep straight your own attendants.”

“You act as if I do not know such things? It is what makes me a great earl, I know my limitations and have those around me do what I cannot.” Herald replied smiling. “So will I be friendly with Yarden? I will if it fits. If he is there to advise when there is a call to arms, then he will advise. But to run the estate or make alliances, you are first.”

“You do not think I can send someone to their death?” Glinda poked playfully.

“Of that I am certain, but in the field of combat, I would not risk you.”

“So you rather I fight two against one with the boys? They do not make taking an audience easy. Yet you would rather coddle them than face seeing another messenger from Routh. I do wonder what plans the three of you concoct for me.”

“Nothing you cannot handle I am sure. Besides they won’t follow through on anything for at least another year.”

“So then what is this choice you made with our unexpected visitor?”

“I merely told him we are not betraying Routh. Though, I do not know if any of the townsfolk felt otherwise. Magician that he was with the show, may actually have been able to read minds.”

“And what if you were betrayed by some of them?”

“Alas, I think the time for worry of such things is past. I cast our fief’s vote when I spoke, and now we wait to see if it was really a show, a test or a bluff.”

Roux

Under a hood forest green
Her eyes were kitten copper
Hidden under hair goblins red
Her smile was like a moon sliver

Her mood not the trio mean
Of help she needed an offer
Lost she waited to be led
Not knowing to follow the river

When to her aid came
A black beast with horn and mane
It ushered her back to home
With all due haste

Gone it went lest she tame
Out the wild and made so plain.
There she met the gnome
Who laid her lands to waste

With bow at the ready
And an arrow filled quiver
Questions of the little one asked
Answers he had none

She took an aim, holding steady
The gnome did give a shiver
He replied he had done as tasked
A request, he made one

That before his passing he may
Place the blame for blood spilt
To mighty warlords upon high
Who ride to neighbors and destroy

Her shot did she stay
So others may hear his guilt
Bound and gagged he would lie
Left under watch of neighbors boy

Departing the neighbor said
Roux where will you go
She was quick in her reply
To save our kin from fate most foul

In high hopes she forged ahead
A small band of fighters in tow
Quick work was what she imply
When warlords on high heard the howl

Across a valley green did they meet
Light glistening over Roux’s back
Golden warlords high replied in charge
Volleys answered thunderous hooves

The thick air turned rain sweet
As man fell in the attack
Roux lay no longer at large
Incompatible to warlords moves.

Lightning flashed from high above
As black beast emerged from cloud
His desire to aid in her need
Shocked back the victors in surprise

Landing gently as a dove
Horn bowed to Roux’s shroud
His life hers now did feed
Warlords shot down the noble prize

As red haired woman rise
Warlords fell in disbelief
What magic had been wrought
Made them tremble and stumble

She looked in each one’s eyes
Of their courage she was thief
Bowed in submission each one sought
To her whim they now humble.

Formula of Eternal Life

All the riches could save us
My child collect and discuss
Silver for a disease or curse
Pestilence gone with Jade in your purse
Gold against enchantment
Pearls for containment
Emeralds keep a spirit safe
Agate keeps away the wraith
Moonstone to keep your dreams
Lapis will focus you schemes

A few more to help you keep score
Affordable if you don’t mind a dirt floor
Rubies help against haze
Jasper prevent your daze
Opals to clean the eyes
Turquoise to find a prize
Tin to clean up your ail
Platinum for where others fail

A shipment of each
There is nowhere out of reach
Fetch each I beseech
Together their power I will teach

Wealth will misery end
Smell the future down wind
With each precious acquisition
You ascend to a new position
Choice you are now granted
Bias toward you they are slanted
In your days give each away
Regaled will your name stay
Upend the class to which you rise
But give too much and meet demise.

Departure – Final Chapter

Kit knew where they were going; it was beyond the Anjin Col.  It was far beyond the forest on the other side of the mountain.   He was charged with helping the Jaspert take the caravan to the city of GornStan, in the lands of the Fifteen Earls.  Those that signed on to the caravan had hoped to leave Saj-Graf behind.

Ertle was in a luxurious carriage with a young man by the name of Siwaldh.  The driver of the carriage was Zahar, the fallen.  The three had met one night at Ermore Inn after the days of the cloudervan.  They had agreed to leave Saj-graf and chase their fortunes elsewhere.  Though not a one revealed their past, they were certain they knew each other and the capabilities that dwelled within.

There were several lesser carts of goods from merchants Ertle had convinced to buy in to the venture and cover his cost of needing guards on the road.  Traveling in this class was Deylin Greyston, off to Pigback Pass to build another watchtower for the city.

As they got ready to leave the city two men approached the caravan and spoke to Kit.  One seemed to struggle with the light of day, and told Kit he had been a shut in and was now ready to see the world.  The other limped a bit but assured he could pay enough to convince Ertle to make space for him.  After giving them a quick assessment, Kit admitted them to the group.  It would be a long ride out and a few more hands would be nice with the troubles they may encounter on the road.

The wagons started to roll out of town by midday.  Kit looked back at Jit tower, it was the first marker of Saj-graf he had seen and would likely be the last.  Its majestic rise over the city would leave a lasting impression.  In his heart he would feel peace once he moved himself from the outskirts of town, past the farms and outlying ruins.  If he could shirk his duty and run once more off to the woods he would do so.   He looked down the length of the caravan and then back to the city one more time.

These cities were living beasts that he feared.  They grew without conscious and bread contempt amongst those that dwelled within.  Somehow they made people feel safe and secure, but for Kit, he was happy to depart and be free.

Demise

Nyo-ji watched as he entered his house.  He grew more uncomfortable with each passing moment as his guide lead him further inside.  The place was cleaner since he had last visited Nyo-ji.  There had been much planning for this moment and Nyo-ji was not above savoring justice in the rare times he could administer it.

“Just wait a moment, here,” his guide commanded. He missed the smirk that followed the order.   Nyo-ji had paid the guide handsomely for her part and it was now done.

As soon as his guide stepped outside the building the door slammed shut.  A voice from the shadows spoke up, “Sartow, you came looking for power.  I shall show you it.”

Sartow watched as little sparks of lightning started to bounce from timber to timber on the ceiling.  He could smell the burning in the air, though he saw no fire.  The dirt in the floor started to rise up like a thousand ant mounds forming and then collapsing.

Sartow ran to the door to make an escape, but it would not budge.  He ran to the window to try that and again it would not move.  The lightning now jumped between the mounds and the rafters, making audible crackling noises with each jump.  The smell of burning air made Sartow sweat with panic.

A large bolt coming down on him was the last thing that Sartow saw.  There was not time for him to scream, no time for him to feel, no time to repent.   The corpse was struck by numerous bolts as Nyo-ji’s anger was unleashed.  Nyo-ji knew Sartow would feel nothing from each successive blow, and yet hit him once for each person he had seen his scars upon.

Outside the house Cerridwen heard thunder from inside, but it was the least of her worries as she could not recall why she was at the house, let alone out in the open streets.  She quickly bolted to an alleyway and out of sight.

Prison

The Saj-graf prison was one of the original buildings of the city.  It had been expanded over the years to accommodate the growth in population.  Its proximity to the single room court had not changed in that time nor had the size of the court.  The oldest parts were made of well-aged wood, slowly being patched with stone and mortar. The newest additions had been the second subbasement that was under construction.  This new addition had resulted from finding several attempts to dig out from the prison and finding another purpose than simply filling them in.  The top floor, which was the third, was meant to hold people temporarily and was often crowded with multiple occupants per cell.  The few lucky ones were deemed in need of solitary confinement on this floor.  Commonly it was those sleeping off their vices or those that were not fit to socialize with the common residence.

Justice in Saj-graf was doled out by two judges, appointed by the mayor. The process was so whimsical that if a spat of good weather or a feast day came up you would wait that much longer for your hearing.  The judges heard cases as they saw fit.  The hearing usually consisted of whichever judge heard your plea and accounts from the town guard.  Naturally witnesses were allowed to be presented, and given the haphazardness of the hearings, only those with coin to spare or dear friends would you be guaranteed their appearance.

It was on a cool late evening that Cerridwen sat at one of the cell doors. It was through the its small window she could see Sartow sleeping in a corner.  “That the one m’Lady?” asked a sleepy guard.

“Oh yes, that is him.  And this if for your troubles,” she slipped him a small pouch. “Now it is probably best you find a corner to curl up in.”

“Yes, that sounds like a lovely idea,” the guard yawned.

“Sartow, darling, how did you end up in here?” Cerridwen said in a sweet voice.

He rolled over on to his side and looked at the door. “I don’t have time for wenches,” he snipped.

“Oh dear is that who got you stuck in here?  I am not here to offer my services; rather I am in need of yours.  Yet in here you serve no purpose, perhaps you would like for me to let you out so we can discuss business?”

“I have no business, just my time till they set me free.”

“And that would be when?  Has it not been thirty days since you took up residency here?  You know a certain lord has some say in the courts and I do not think it best you go to trial.”

“Speak quickly or I may call for a guard to bring me water.”

“The job is outside of town and as a leader of men.  They aspire for your renown and your skill.as a leader.  I can take you to them, but only tonight.”

 

Calm

The building week of tension had broken last night in chaos, and now quiet filled the air. Order won the battle and was set to reclaim the rule. Its serene reassurance was to be embraced by those that had survived. As the panic in people’s hearts to escape from the cages that had been built, there was still much work to be done. Those brave enough, were out in the field tending the wounded or confirming that the large beasts were indeed dead. The Ardent order had been decimated, but their casualties looked minor to the slain cloudervan lying strewn across the field.

Artron followed Corvus as he made show of his kills to the record keepers. He wanted his share of the bounties on these beasts from the mayor. Collaboration was key and that was where someone honest like Artron came in. Artron felt no moral qualm signing off as a witness as long as Corvus kept a blind eye to the valuable metals and gems the silversmith pocketed. It was not as if there were not nobles out in the field doing the same, it was how money was made. Arton was also busy counting the total number slain in the field, he would later gather with the other counters to make sure no corpse was unclaimed or disputed. Those lower in the pecking order stood near their kills to chase of the profiteers and show their mark on the corpse. Once all was tallied the gold would be split and the only ones who lost out were the fallen.

Martell walked the field with Kit, studying the bodies of the cloudervan. Kit worked in a sketch book, while Martell collected samples from the dead. “Looks like these are an Enchanter’s experiment gone awry. That or they have some inherent magical inclination as now their bodies come apart with any of my blades,” commented Martell.

“Nothing natural about copper being a weakness…at least on the skin. I could see it being an issue with something like blood, but copper is not that strong,” Kit commented. “You ever hear the formula of eternal life?”

All the riches could save us
My child, collect and discuss
Silver for a disease or curse
Pestilence gone with Ruby in your purse
Gold against enchantment
Pearls for containment
Emeralds keep a spirit safe
Agate keeps away the wraith
Moonstone to keep your dreams
Lapis will focus you schemes

A few more to help you keep score
Affordable if you don’t mind a dirt floor
Rubies help against haze
Jasper prevent your daze
Opals to clean the eyes
Turquoise to find a prize
Tin to clean up your ail
Platinum for where others fail

A shipment of each
There is nowhere out of reach
Fetch each I beseech
Together their power I will teach

“I had not heard that one,” replied Martell
“There is wisdom in there somewhere, or so my master says. I find it just a list of wealth without the context in which it was written.”
“I think enchanters would be able to do more with it. They are all crafting items for talismans. Yet some of those items are not used for what is listed. Maybe it is a code or done to intentionally mislead outsiders.”

Vagrant’s Keep

Vagrant’s Keep, was once a tower on the outer walls of Saj-graf. As the city grew the tower lost its purpose, yet being a solid stone structure it was never torn down. The walkways which originally connected to other towers, have since been converted to paths above the city streets connecting a nest of buildings. Various groups have since lived in the tower as time went on. For awhile it was home to a den of thieves until the city guard cleaned it out. It was then home to the Ardent Order, till they completed their current home.

The top floor was eventually taken over by a religious cult called the Brotherhood of The Flight. Since they have been deemed harmless by the city they have been allowed to stay. The other floors have served as residence to hundreds of homeless passing through, always scared off by some ghost they claim haunts the second floor. The Brotherhood acknowledges the ghosts presence but deem it harmless.

The basement is currently home to a tavern called The Basket and Casket. It is run by a former mercenary content to spend the rest of his days safe behind a bar and his only casualties being the occasional glass dropped by a patron. He dons his old uniform from the forgotten company when he chooses to serve. His eye patch is part of the show too, as he can still see through its pinhole opening. His oily chestnut and gray hair is slicked back to add a touch of maturity to his act. Many call him Captain, though no one is certain of who he served. He has the stories and knowledge to prove he has done something.

It is in this bar listening to how he fought back goblin hoards that many try to find an escape from the surrounded city. Kadin and Maeve sit half listening to the story between drinks and discussion of their short lived celebration. Kadin had made Maeve wait two days before accepting her proposal. Though this was short by his standards, Maeve had gone near crazy when he explained why he could not answer on a whim. Kaisu had been a dear and listened to her rant while Kadin had stayed locked in meditation at the shrine. When he returned with consent she had finally had her senses returned to her.

There was a cheer from the crowd as the Captain finished his story and introduced the follow up act, Jaspert the story teller. Maeve saw he was to be accompanied by a musician, someone she may know, but was uncertain if it was her.

“Good evening to all of you. I have a new story tonight, one that is of hope.” Jaspert cleared his throat and cracked open a book. “This comes from the archives of Saj-graf. I have not memorized it so pardon the book. It is of when the Ardent Order came to the aid of people in need.”

The Missing

They went missing. It was the last line of the story and it felt rather unsatisfying to the old man. He paged through the parchments again, skimming for details of the Ardent Order and their final marches against the Cloudervan. They were victorious, and the story said as much. Yet beyond that the details were just not there. The recount was quite bloody going into how the captain lost an arm to the beasts razor sharp claws or how a sergeant was impaled fifteen times before no longer marching forward carrying the company’s standard. Yet not a word after the slaying of their opponent.

The descriptions of the beasts pains were just as graphic. Copper guilded blades glistening in the evening sun as the cloudervans’ blood hissed on contact. Each precise slash by one to the Ardent Order meant another cloudervan crying in agony, encouraging the company to march onward against a foe that had slaughtered thousands. The only regret of the order was not arriving sooner to save more of the town of Saj-graf.

The old man knew there were some of the order still in Saj-graf today. Yet he had never heard of these stories and if not for the books given to him to research it would still have been lost. He quickly noted his findings and sealed them in an envelope. He slid the envelope out under his door, and like so many times before heard the steps of the one in the hall walk down and retrieve his writing.

The panic in the below streets were of no importance to him, in his own world. He again counted down the days till his contract was up. Would the sun feel better that day than through the window? Would the fresh air be rejuvenating or would he miss the must of the stacks? He had started to long for the sound of cracking open hundred year old books. Yet simply the option to savor a walk in the rain still made him smile, He wanted a day of choices made all freely by himself.