A dense fog blanketed the forest and the feint sounds of horses and people reverberated off the trees; A caravan was on the move. They followed a weathered dirt path which stretched through the Valarian Forrest, at times the path disappeared completely before reemerging sometime later, making it too easy for travelers to lose themselves. Leading on horseback was a woman, or rather a ranger, hired to guide the caravan through the dangerous wood, and behind her a small group of men dressed in chainmail and leather. With drawn weapons they scanned the area around them, their faces dirtied and sweating from nerves. They were mercenaries, mostly, and they had been ambushed already by thieves, and the encounter had cost some of their number. Behind the mercenaries were the merchants and travelers they were hired to protect. Towards the rear of the column was an ambassador of one of the Valarian lords, traveling to the Ferronian capital to seek an audience with the queen. He too was accompanied by a pack of hired swords in addition to his Valarian guard.
"pick up the pace!" one of the guards hollered from the rear of the column, and the caravan complied without objection. All eyes were fixed upon the forest which surrounded them, expecting the unseen foe to reveal themselves at any moment in a frenzied attack. After the guards repelled the first ambush many of the thieves escaped back into the forest, but the cutthroats had wizened up and rather then another all out attack they had taken to following the convoy and picking off the guards one at a time, or wounding one of them to slow their pace. The men were utterly frustrated that they could not defend themselves against the harassment
A bird sounded from the forest, and on the other side of the road another bird returned the call; the thieves were communicating something. One of the mercenaries lost his patience and turned his horse to face the forest. At the top of his lungs he yelled, "Come out you cowards!" but he was answered only by silence.
Suddenly an arrow broke through the fog and flew towards the mercenary. With a loud "Umph!" he caught it with his shield, nearly falling from his horse as he jerked his body away from the projectile. He was quick to regain balance and snapped the arrow from his shield, yelling curses in frustration. There was another bird call and the rustling of plants, but the fog concealed their movements.
One of the mercenaries hired to guard the ambassador turned to his comrades and spoke, "We're almost at the outpost. If they're going to do something it'll happen soon. Be ready."
Soft light poured in from two large windows which stretched from floor to ceiling, a sophisticated gold and red Kaininite rug sprawled across the polished stone floor. Maps of various regions and provinces were framed on the walls and all over the room various items of antiquity were put on display. Stacks of paper and books were sprawled across a dark wooden desk at the center of it all and on either side of the desk sat two men.
"Are you sure it should be him?" one of them spoke, the more plainly dressed of the two.
He wore a dark brown, wool tunic, with his long black hair partially braided and falling over his shoulders, the other man was dressed far finer with an intricately patterned golden and black doublet, pinned on the right side of the chest with an iron sunburst fashioned around a citrate gemstone, the official pin of the Ferronian court. He leaned back in his chair and ran his hand over his short blonde hair as he loosed an exhausted sigh, a look of annoyance on his face.
"Why shouldn't it be him?" his tone plainly irate as he tapped his fingers on his desk. The man was big, bigger than any mage ought to be. If his status as Archmage wasn't intimidating enough, his sheer size was. Indeed he was the Archmage of Ferros, Oswald Blaumond, and squirming under his icy gaze was Lateus Erren, head of his research division.
"It's... a dangerous job," Lateus replied with an uneasy smile. The man was brilliant in his scholarly pursuits, but he was a rather underwhelming mage with a meek personality.
"I'm more than confident in my sons ability," Archmage Blaumond replied plainly. He was growing short with Lateus. "Besides, it'll be a good opportunity for him."
"When will you tell him?
"Now. I've already sent for him; Skye should be here soon."
Dark clouds lumbered forward from the coast. The weather was calm now but soon a storm would be upon them. Outfitted in his brigandine and chainmail chausses, Sir Elric Grey stood on the city walls of Vespar, and tiresomely looked over the great city with brown eyes. It was nearly only soldiers which roamed the streets, the civilians themselves were mostly boarded up in their own homes, praying to Euros for a chance to see the sunrise at the end of the siege, for before nightfall the army of Lord Theron begin their siege.
Elric twisted his hand nervously back and forth across the hilt of his blade. Behind him some soldiers were making last minute efforts to strengthen the defenses, others were enjoying themselves the hours before the siege. It was humorous that before a siege there were some playing cards or dice and gambling their savings away, because no one expected to live through the night. A familiar voice caught his attention.
"Elric, there you are!" the voice belonged to Sir Doyle, one of his companions and long time friend. The old man had been through some dangerous times with Elric, and had earned his place as one of his advisers.
"I've been thinking. If there's one thing we've got going for us it's that Theron won't try to starve us out," Sir Elric said as he turned from the city and looked out over the grassy field which stretched before the walls, it was lush and green from the spring rains, it disturbed Elric to think what it might look like by morning. Far in the distance the camp of"Theron is pressed for time. As he marches to us he has a Valean army marching towards his homeland. He'll need a quick victory here if he hopes to intercept the Valeans, and with his numbers he probably thinks it's possible."
Sir Elric smiled and looked at his friend, "Which means he's going to commit to an all out assault. Maybe a night or two of bombardment, but he's going to be anxious to get his men over these walls."
"Why is that a good thing?" Sir Doyle inquired.
"If we die, at least it won't be of starvation," Elric replied with a hollow chuckle.
"Elric, there are still some ships in port. Board as many men as you can and evacuate the city. As your friend and adviser, we won't win this. Even if we do how long can we hold Vespar against the Valeans or the next army? Save your men to fight another day."
Elric scoffed, "The city isn't important. Right now every Valarian who wants independence has three sides to choose from. Our army is underfunded and undermanned. Let me tell you something Doyle, Valarians want a republic, I know they do! But there are few men willing to die in vain for one. We need to prove that all of this isn't in vain and that we have a chance. All we need is a victory, a big one and people will flock under our banner."
Elric smiled warmly at his friend and then proceeded down the walkway, descending the wall. He continued as Doyle followed, "My goal is to have Therons head on a pike and one less competitor for the sons of Valaria. Besides, if Theron is allowed to claim Vespar he will entrench himself in this city and Valaria might as well be his."
Sir Doyle sighed heavily and shrugged his shoulders, "You're going to get me killed."
"Probably," Sir Elric replied with a hearty laugh as he looked over his shoulder back at his friend. It was at great surprise he turned to see a face he had never expected to see again
"Nyirr?" Elric said in disbelief. "Nyirr of the Tower?" he said again, furrowing his eyebrows as if he was unsure of his vision.
A pillar of smoke rose above the Valean countryside. Tegan, Alaric and Kotori had been sent by the tower to investigate the acquisitions of a small town. Apparently there was a feral mage loose among them, and the sight of the rising smoke did not bode well. Anxious of what could of happened, the trio kicked their horses into motion.
They raced along the dirt road, surrounded on each side by far stretching farmland. As they grew closer to the village they could hear yelling and screaming. The dirt road gave way to cobblestone as they entered the village. The homes were quaint and the scene would of been picturesque if not for the ever loudening sound of screams and clamor. At this distance however, they could make out yelling, and the voices did not sound distressed but rather they sounded angered.
It was when they rounded the final corner did the reality of the scenario become apparent. Lined in a row were five stakes, and tied to the first three were small, charred bodies. Two adults were tied to the remaining stakes, their skin being consumed by fire. The skin of their waists was beginning to melt away, and violently they jerked their bodies as much as they could against the rope, desperate to escape the hell. As the flames inched up their bodies they let loose horrifying screams, chilling to the bone, but over their agony the crowd yelled in a frenzy.
There was no shortage of names, and as the crowd howled for blood a group of armed men stood before them, near the burning stakes. They were armored in chain mail and leather, and the bore stripped red and white tunics with the silhouette of a rose in the center. They were of the Order, eight or nine in total, and they looked upon their actions with smug content. One of the men spoke to the crowd, egging them on and encouraging their hatred.
"This is the cure!" He said as he motioned his arm to the burning stake. The townsfolk bellowed in approval, "Mages and their kind are a blight upon our nation! It takes one, ONE mage to destroy a village. One mage can unleash havoc upon you that you dare not have a nightmare of. You know the fear well! With but a thought they can extinguish your life!"
The man full of adrenaline paced back and forth in front of the crowd, who in this bloodthirsty state were eager to hear more! Hear him speak of the atrocities mages were, hear him instill fear, hear him justify what they had done.
"There is no place in this world for a mage, and the world would be all the safer without them. But I tell you friends, neighbors, that it is not enough to deal with the mage, but you must deal with the source!" He continued as he pointed an accusing finger at the couple burning, by now the flames had consumed their faces and their bodies were lumps of burning meat.
"A women who gives birth to a mage will birth more mages. A man whose seed yields a mage will father more monsters. It is not enough to rid the mage, but you must rid their lineage! When one person wield such control over the lives of others the world is a dangerous place! By this purification we secure a safer future!"
The trio from the Tower had not yet been noticed, but a feint whisper from the window of a nearby house caught their attention. It was an elderly man, his eyes glazed from sorrow and his face contorted with fear, "Run!" he whispered louder, "The world has turned to madness."