Chapter 20

Tabia lead the way toward Erridda. Out of the three, she was the only one that had been to the stronghold. The occasional breeze would shake the branches and make them forget that the snow had tapered off around midmorning. The sun stayed hidden between the clouds ruining hopes for a warmer day of travel. As they progressed, the trees themselves had gotten taller and the flora had gotten denser. About midway through the day, Oren picked up on the decline in both visible wildlife and signs of their presence.
A silence was growing as they continued on the path. Tabia and Martell agreed that there was something amiss. Martell did not sense any sprites when Oren asked her to check. Oren did not notice anything different in the spirits. Tabia agreed that something was off, but did not know what. As a precaution, Martell got on her remaining bits of armor.
The trio progressed cautiously with horse in tow. They took turns jumping at the most random of forest noise in anticipation of an ambush. The day ended with no encounter and everyone on edge. It was a restless night that followed.
The next day progressed much like the prior, with the sun remaining hidden all day. It was late afternoon when the menace reared its head. A lone figure emerged some distance ahead of them and spoke, “These are my woods; you must pay to travel through or turn back now.” The voice was gravelly and forced. Two flames appeared above him, they slowly morphed into the shape of ravens on fire.
Oren took in the man’s appearance; he looked as tall as an ogre but far less distinguishable characteristics. It was almost like Senkoo’s skill to hide, but the energy radiated from within him. He was not calling on spirits to aid him. There were two piercing red eyes that glowed at them. “What is your toll for passage?”
“Varelle’s servant.” This time the voice hissed out, its eyes growing larger.
“I am sorry but we cannot part with our companion,” spoke Oren.
“You can’t pass.” The voice changed to back to the more gravelly sounding. The birds of flame moved closer to Tabia. “You must now pay to leave these woods.”
Martell moved closer to Tabia, her swords drawn in a defensive stance.
“We will not pay you any fee or toll for movement from this place.” Oren spoke defiantly. He was trying to figure out his next move.
“Then you will all pay,” it hissed again. The flaming birds dove at Tabia and Martell.
Martell swung at the birds as the closed in, disrupting their flight, but other than that causing no harm to them. They flew past the ladies and then repositioned to attack from two sides at once. The pair dove in at them. Martell swung at one while the other zipped by and seared the Tabia’s robes.
Oren tried to push back whatever spirits were serving their foe, but it had no effect.
“You are the one who drew me to you,” it spoke to Oren. “You woke me from my sleep in these woods and reminded me of what I desire. Now you try to push me away without even a snack.” The voice did not sound like it came from the shadowy figure, but was talking to him in his head.
Oren moved away from the women, trying to have the man’s attention on to himself.
The flaming birds continued their assault on Martell and Tabia. Tabia knelt down and started chanting a hymn to Varelle. The birds dove again at the two but this time stopped short, as if the song was interfering with their desire to continue attacking. Martell took the small distraction as a moment to make sure Tabia’s robes were not on fire. She could see that Tabia’s song contradicted the pain she saw on her face.
The figure moved after Oren hissing, “If you called and have nothing to give us then we will take you.” Within a blink the figure moved next to him. As it raised its arm he saw the hand transform into a blade. The creature swung down at Oren. He countered with his staff, blocking the blade. The blade dented the metal band on the staff. Oren then took a quick step to give him distance to swing with a counter attack. The staff hit the mark, but felt to Oren as if he had hit a pillow.
The attacking birds were slowly weakening in defined shape. With each approach to Tabia’s song, their fire faded in intensity. Martell was uncertain as to how much longer Tabia would keep this up as she could hear breaks in her voice.
Oren’s adversary swung again at him, and Oren tried to call spirits to shield him but none answered his call. He blocked again with his staff.
“You want us sent away, then you call us to do your bidding. You are a confusing human.” The figure hissed. “We are already here, the others fear us. Now spill your blood so we may feed.” There was another swing at Oren. This time distracted by the words spoken to him he was hit in the right arm. The cut left behind was cold and painful.
The birds had dissipated. Before running over to assist Oren, Martell checked on Tabia, confirming she was tired, but okay.
As he looked down at his wound, Oren saw the ring on his hand. He focused as best he could on it, commanding his assailant to back down. It wheeled backward, as if something had pulled it off balance. It raised its arm to strike at Oren again, but Oren commanded it to halt. Mid swing the spirit creature stopped. “You will halt your assault and go back to your slumber.” Oren vocalized.
The creature shuddered as it started to lose shape. “You cannot banish me so easily. I will have my reward for answering your call.” The creature hissed and lurched forward at Oren.
Oren grunted, feeling fatigue from focusing. Blood started to flow from his wound and drip down his hand. “You will retreat back to your slumber and harm no more. No one here will be your payment.”
“Command him to rest in your staff Oren. It will obey.” Martell shouted. Oren looked vexed by the command from her. “Trust me on this. I will explain later.”
The creature looked at Martell, then to Oren. “Do as she says and I will feast on what you provide,” this time going back to its gravely sounding voice.
“I command you to rest in this staff. You will cease your assault and struggles against my friends and I.” Oren spoke as his staff came in contact with the creature. The creature slowly receded in size as Oren repeated his command. Tabia and Martell could see a greenish-white glow coming from the ring on Oren’s hand and the metal binding of the staff.
Once the creature was gone the two went over to Tabia to check on her wounds. Her skin was burned where the birds had touched, but otherwise she was not harmed. “What was that all about?” Tabia asked. “You were acting as if it was talking to you but I heard nothing.”
“Oren, would you care to explain what it was saying?” Martell commented. “I did not hear the words it spoke to you either. But I have read about beings like that.”
“I didn’t know you could not hear it.” Oren said with surprise in his voice. “Apparently it was a creature of spirits. Though, I have never seen one visibly like that before. He was asking for your life in exchange for passage through the woods. When I denied it, it then asked for it to leave the woods. If I understood Martell, it now resides in this staff.”
“You do not know as much as I thought you do Oren,” Martell responded. “When I saw you reading Penumbra of Nature, I thought you were further along than you are. In places where there are no wards there are spirits of great power. These types of spirits are one of the myriad of things wards protect against. In your practice one of your calls to summon spirits close must have reached this one’s ears. In exchange for answering your summons it expected payment. I think its language barrier was the reason it said toll.”
“That explains the conversation,” said Tabia, “But where did it go then?”
“The spirit is now in Oren’s staff. This is similar to an enchantment by an enchanter. I do not know if it is exactly the same. I had heard a channeler could request a spirit to assist him, but had not seen it done before. An enchanter would typically have to forge or craft the staff as he did the enchantment. Normally, this would be done with the assistance of one of a variety of Invoker’s lanterns available. They would then need the artisan or smith present to help with the crafting the final item. It would appear that Oren was able to add the spirit to an existing item and without the lantern. There is far more to enchanting than my summary, but that falls in to knowledge I lack.”
“Do you know how it was able to take a physical manifestation?” asked Oren. “It also may have been multiple spirits. There were two voices that it talked to me in. One was more chaotic and in search of blood while the other was slightly reasonable. It even agreed with Martell’s suggestion to have it rest in the staff.”
“It may have been the power from the multiple spirits that gave it form. But I do not know what allowed that,” responded Martell.
“Much is not understood of the spirits Martell,” spoke Tabia. “They are to be respected for their power according to the teachings of Varelle. It is my understanding that I was dwelling in their realm till you released me. Oren you seem to have an affinity or connection to them, is that correct?”
“Yes.”
“That connection is possibly the same as the first priestess of Varelle had and how she contacted her. Stories tell of her talking to shadows with red eyes, Servants of the Gods. To clarify, they were not the goddess Varelle, nor were they Casapaten, Latl, or Dahl. The gods transcend the spirits as they all use the servants. For the first several priestesses, this skill was mandatory, but things changed as the view of the servants changed. Somewhere around the thirty-fifth priestess, this ability was no longer sought out. It appears in the history that occasionally a priestess may be blessed to also communicate with the servants but for only short periods or times of need.”
“That continued with them after your time as well,” added Martell. “The one-hundred-eleventh priestess is the most recent one to have had the power. She was seen by many as the reason for the Temple of Avo being spared when the town was pillaged by The Mountain King when the Drémore Vales attempted to break from Iseb.”
“I would have guessed Varelle’s continuation in its use. I was never granted that favor of hers. I am still left with no knowledge as to why she has me guide you to Erridda. What I last recall of Erridda is the tall walls and the arrival of a fresh garrison of troops from Drémore Castle. I had been summoned to give Varelle’s blessing on the stronghold with the completion of construction. There was a kingdom to the southeast called Timus after the ruling family. At the time they completed the stronghold, Timus had a new king on the throne and he had already declared war on two of his neighbors. The Drémores were afraid they would turn north next.”
“They never did turn north,” Martell responded. “The kingdom of Timus was overrun with a plague from one of their campaigns south. It came back with the soldiers and spread from there. Drémore was so afraid of it reaching his kingdom that trade was cut off with Timus. There are accounts of anyone arriving from there being killed and the body burned. It was a sad state of affairs, if true. The kingdom of Timus fell apart from there. It is now several baronies and principalities, but they have not unified since that time. “

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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.”

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.

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.”

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.

Evenings

Late in the evening, when the north wind blows down through the alleys by the Chalice Gate, one can hear a calling.  Some would say it is the voices of the past, while others would claim it a haunting of the dead.  To some it is a comforting wind and others it sends a chill down through their skull.  Many a child has gone chasing to see where the voice comes from and return none the wiser.  The guard patrolled the alleyways for a year at the beck of the residents to put an end to the noise and no cause was ever determined.

It was in these narrow pathways that Zahar met an old man.  He seemed at ease with the way he limped toward Zahar. “Young man, I have been looking for you,” he spoke up.  “Easy there, not you per se but someone of you youth and agility.”

Zahar could see the man was missing a foot as the space between the two narrowed. “As a member of the Ardent Order,  I am happy to assist one of our towns seniors.  What can I do for you?”

“I live up in the mountains and with the recent collapse of the monolith I think it best to reside in the city now.  However I cannot drag a trunk down by myself.  Would you be able to assist me in retrieving it?”

“Zahar who are you talking to?”  asked Katranna as she rounded the corner. “You know we are in a hurry.”

“Katranna, I am helping this man with a question.”  Zahar glared over to meet her rounding the corner.

“Who?  The rat scurrying away down the alley”

“Yes, the rat,” Zahar looked back to at the nothingness.

“I should really just let Crevan have you full time.”  Katranna said squinting in the dark to see if anyone still lurked.

Lyrical Legion

The sword song was the first lesson that Crevan had learned from his master and it was now what he tried to teach Kit.  It was a rhythmic chant which accompanied movement of the sword.  The key was to swing with the right exhales, not the one your opponent would expect.  The nuance would take at least a year of daily practice before Kit could move to the next concept.  In five years or so Kit would be able to move beyond a sword to other weapons or something in his off hand.  Crevan had told him Kit his voice needed more work than anything else.  Kit responded laughing saying he just needed a better song to sing.

A mandate from Alvin meant Crevan was free to start teaching at least three new pupils.  This was an unexpected change since the king of Iseb had banned the school from teaching when Saj-graf had come under his domain.  Yet with the monoliths protection gone, Alvin was willing to bring back the fighting style to protect the city and boost moral of his ward.  In addition to the Forest Walker, Crevan had received an inept student named Zahar from the Ardent Order, and  a young teenager by the name of Aryne.  The other two pupils were not as eager as Kit to learn, and had not shown up today for their lesson.  Aryne’s actions were slightly more excusable as his youth was as fault.  Zahar would rely on the pressing needs of the Order as his excuse.  It was a weak one as Crevan knew no such demands existed.
While going through the paces again, Crevan thought back to when he had been a teen. The Lyrical Legion had not been disbanded and the Saj-graf Marshal was more than just a spiritual seer.  Volka’s master had had that privilege for only three years before Iseb had taken control.  Iseb knew the spiritual leadership they provided was a strong symbol for Saj-graf.  They toyed with destroying the Legion all together, but bid their time when the wounds of war were still fresh.   In the end, only the position of Marshal was retained.  Volka’s peers had been sent from the city to preserve the teachings.  A few were still around and Crevan would need to find them to help build the ranks up again.  Crevan only had some much knowledge and experience to pass on

Crevan smiled as he came back to the present.  A young boy by the name of Groth trying to mimic the two of them.  The lad was too young to take in as a proper soldier, but was now an aspiring apprentice under Crevan.  It pleased Groth’s father to see him learn the old ways, and to have a strong interest in skills his ancestors had practiced. For now though Groth contented himself running errands and learning the laws of being in the Lyrical Legion.  Crevan returned his focus to Kit.

 

“Again, and this time try not to butcher the refrain,”  Crevan barked.  He cleared his voice and started with Kit, “I strike when you make fit, but that is not where I hit”

Chasm

Sun light cut through the haze that still rose from the ground.  The chasm had cut the city, running a jagged line from the Saj-graf Monolith to the Chalice Gate.  It swallowed not a soul the day it formed, but left many hurt in its creation.  Nothing came flowing out though the top of a spire fell in. Many a basement now had light.  The Locked Chancery had a new window to the world and lost a large amount of beer to sate the chasm’s thirst.

Hector walked with Corvus along the length of the chasm.  Hector had been asked to evaluate the best places for bridges to cross the gap by Mayor Alvin.  He hit the ground with his staff trying to judge the response.  The two were discussing what the lack of a monolith meant for the city and debated how long it would be till Ogres or a manticore showed up to threaten the city.  Their conversation paused as they watch a couple of teenagers run and jump a narrow point of the chasm.  Corvus shook his head at the foolishness while Hector laughed at the teens’ success.

“I still cannot think of anyone in town that would do such a thing.  Hewing the best protection we have and then no other follows through.”  Spoke Hector.

“It is probably the work of some group of mercenaries looking for work.” Corvus responded.

“Then they should go work for one of the trade houses, or volunteer for the wars in the south.  There is no reason the people of Saj-graf need this burden.”

“I agree, if the city is attacked I am expected to muster at least a hundred men, well ninety-nine if I choose to serve.  I think that would be every person I have working in the fields.

“Do you think it could be an agent of King Vincent?  He has always had his eye on Saj-graf as a port town with access to the Vertrive Sea.  That seems more likely, but why would he not coordinate with his corsairs’ attack on Port Gertrude. It would have made more sense.”

“Lord Corvus, have we taken to admiring the City’s new feature?” A voice spoke up from behind.  It was Gabriel, walking down the street in one of the few times during the day.  Walking alongside him were Martell and Kit.

“Yes, and talk with my brother Hector, he is charged with management of the city’s infrastructure you know.” replied Corvus pondering what Gabriel was after. “Have you taken on a personal guards?”

“Them?  No we are on our way to talk to Ardent Order.  They are interrogating a bandit named Sartow for his motives in the city.  He was roughing up some patrons at a tavern when the guard arrested him. Best of luck with your civil service.”  The trio continued on their way.

“War would alter the power structure in this city,” Hector mused. “Surely a few of the nobles will seek glory in battle in fail, freeing their lands to be distributed.  Corvus, are you the one they call the Prince?”

Corvus burst into laughter. “Hector, if only I had the brain for such planning.  No, I am far too petty for that job.”

Fenshorn Manor

Siwaldh looked out from the balcony of the Fenshorn Manor.  From there he could see the glistening Saj-graf Monolith protecting the city. The marble floors were a nice contrast to the inconsistent wood of the inn he spent his nights at. If Siwaldh had the luxury, he would spend every night in a place with so few drafts, and filled with the aroma of a garden below.  Grabbing an apple from nearby he savored the freshness and lack of bruises on the flesh.

Unfortunately, as an uninvited gust of the Fenshorns, Siwaldh would only have some much time to make preparations and fell the monolith.  He had chosen the manor because this enchantment required a line of sight to work.  With luck the Fenshorn family was residing in their country manor so he only had to deal with a few servants for access to the place.  No doubt the family would miss their loyal maids and butlers, but witnesses were not part of the contract from the Prince.  He needed only two days to complete his task, plenty of time to be out before the neighbors should notice anything amiss.

Siwaldh had seen the monolith from many angles since his arrival and had been able to plot the weakest point.  Research back at the guild of Enchanters, had taught him that this was one of the earliest monoliths and had never received the protection against what he was about to do.  For almost a moment his morals sparked, contemplating the ethics of his action before his mind was awash with details of the preparations.

He knocked everything to the floor from a sturdy desk and started etching into its surface some channels.  Next he poured liquids from various vials he had brought with him. While they sat he dragged over a brazier and started a fire.  It was no Invoker’s Lantern, but it would do the job.

On the second day, Siwaldh was seen leaving the front gate of the Fenshorn Manor by a passing guard.  He stopped him to ask what business he had at the estate.  Before Siwaldh could answer there was a loud cracking noise as stone buckled and sheered. The ground under the city itself shook followed by screams of panic.  Siwaldh waited for the guard to choose his next action, slowly back stepping away.  He then turned and ran, leaving the guard still dazed by what was transpiring.