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Thread: Blood Water Wine

  1. #1
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Apr 2003

    Default Blood Water Wine

    It was said that we all walk down the path of destiny. With junctions and crossroads, choices and opportunities; all observed, valued and recorded. Some appreciate and faithfully abide, determined to be worthy of the final judgment. Others refuse to become slaves of divine puppeteers and their play acts. Thus, born were virtues, sins, wisdom and freewill.

    Regardless of intention and faith, the road will be filled with ordeals and adversities. The devoted believes that life is the anvil of spirits. Souls are fashioned and beaten time after time in the furnace of sufferings to emerge complete and beautiful. The weak and the failures are cast off forever down the deep chasm of the unworthy. Others, the prodigals, the unbelievers and the sinners, dishearten by the neglect of the deities, set off and walk another road; their roads.

    Sorry duty calls. The excerpt first .... for advertising. I'll continue later this afternoon.

  2. #2
    Senior Member eeyore's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
    Hundred Acres Wood


    woah Azzy!!!! unveil the hidden talent!!!! good on you..

    so what is the story line? wuxia/modern? drama/mistery/horror/fantasty/comedy... or non of it?
    Spring Summer Autumn Winter.
    Pair ducks nest fly together.
    Clemencies. Summer life, feather winter white.
    Green meadow in spring, before the autumn bite.
    Watching the red gown.
    And none else, alone.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Apr 2003


    [size=4]Chapter 1[/size]

    195 years after Cataclysm

    Green flat meadow covered with patches of yellowing grasses. Here and there trees speckled the otherwise empty soil. A small creek, more heard than seen, at the edge of horizon. Empty, nothing alive here.

    So familiar. No. Not familiar, this is home. But where is the village? The hedge and the ditch, the embattlement, the towers and their watchers. Is this another place exactly like our village surroundings?

    Oric looked around, getting worried by the minutes. He had no weapon with him, not even the dagger his father gave him at his fifth birthday. He always carried it with him. He was not afraid. He was seven, not a baby anymore. Well, almost seven, the next week he would be. This cheered him up.

    Father promised to bring me hunting with him then. Other boys went hunting at six, a few even at five. And I am better with bows than many others.

    Then he saw something at the corner of his vision.

    Is it a stump? No, looked like a man. Maybe I can ask for direction. I am not afraid. I am not afraid. People of Guntram are not cowards!

    He walked closer and closer. It was an old man with long silvery beard, wrinkled pale skin and long white hair down to his shoulders. Strong eyes but a kind smile that reached his eyes. An old brown garb, darkened with age and dusty, covered him.

    ‘Glory and health! I am Oric of Guntram. Can you tell me --‘, Oric said.

    ‘Theodoric son of Heinrich and Meta, I have been waiting for you’, the old man replied.

    This shocked Oric. His name was Theodoric, which meant ‘ruler of people’. A good name but dangerous thus, his parents always called him ‘Oric’.

    His mother once old him, ‘Oric, it is enough that your father and I alone suffer. We have given you a powerful name so that you will have a glorious destiny. But guard your name, do not utter it carelessly.’

    Oric step back and looked around but there was no one else or any sign of threat. Slowly he asked, ‘Who are you? Why did you call me Theodoric?’

    Still smiling, the old man sat down, reached inside his robe and laid on the ground three items: a sword, a parchment and a small bag. He asked, ‘Which of these do you prefer?’

    Carefully Oric sat down, reach out and examine each object. The sword looked ordinary but well balanced, of good material, very light and sharp. A fighting weapon then, not a ceremonial trinket, and very valuable. It matched his grip as if crafted just for him. The parchment was small but inscribed was infinite knowledge. This was strange. Since he could not read, how could he understood what was written. Only two or three people in his village could read. Reading was not important. The small bag contained seeds. Again as with the scroll, he felt could feed the whole world with these.

    Each and all of these items is a treasure. Is this some kind of a trap?

    The old man smiled and assured him, ‘No trap young one, no trap. Please choose one.’

    ‘Will you give me whatever I choose?’ Oric asked still suspicious.


    ‘This,’ Oric pointed to the sword.

    The old man sighed and looked very sad. ‘Are you certain with your selection? You do not wish for unlimited knowledge and unequalled wisdom? You do not yearn for eternal prosperity of your people?’

    ‘Letters and scrolls don’t bring food nor protect lives. We have had several good harvests but enemies attacked every year. Sometimes we won. Sometimes we lost. But always, we ran to the warriors for protection.’

    There was silence. For several minutes, the old man looked at Oric long and hard, with sad expression. ‘It is unfortunate that misery hunts unmercifully and relentlessly. More heartrending is that humans loose their most precious possession for illusions.’

    ‘I don’t understand. What --‘, Oric tried to ask but suddenly the world shook.

    ‘Oric! Oric, wake up! Oric!’ His mother was shouting.

    He opened his eyes. His mother was shaking him hard. Confused, he asked, ‘Mother?’

    ‘Make haste! We go to the hall. Out of your bed! Come on!’ she thrust a small bow in his hands. She was carrying a short sword in her hand and a longer bow crossed on the back, with string placed.

    He rose from his straw bed, made sure his dagger was strapped to hip, and followed her. He was at home, in family hut. The small fire in the middle was still burning. Muffled sound from outside reached his ears: people shouting, metals clashing and animals bleating. Her mother shoved the door made out of tied straws and twigs open.

    It was night. He suppose, by the first light on the far horizon, sometimes just before daybreak. People were fighting; several huts were burning; one or two mounted warriors slashed and hacked down the unawares. An arrow whizzed just inches from his cheek and jutted on the hut.

    ‘Stay low. Come on this way.’ His mother had an arrow nocked on the bow and watching around for anyone dares to approach.

    ‘Where is father? Who are they?’

    ‘He went to the wall. I do not know. They hid their banners. Cowards!’

    They ran toward the village meeting hall, skittering huts. Suddenly, they came upon three men and one woman. Nobody they recognized. Two men had a long spear each, the other carried a long sword in his right hand and a dagger left. The woman armed with a bow and shot upon seeing them.

    The arrow sped fast and true, burying itself in Meta’s right shoulder. She loosed an arrow but the pain and weakening hand failed her. The arrow missed harmlessly. The female archer reached for another arrow and the others surrounded them.
    Last edited by Azalae; 09-18-03 at 03:35 AM.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Apr 2003



    A change out of the monotones.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Apr 2003


    Oric recovered from his surprise but was too late. They were surrounded. Most of the opponents were warily watching his mother but only one of the spear-armed glanced at his direction at all.

    The enemy with sword and dagger moved toward Meta. He raised his sword hand. Oric threw his dagger. The warrior sensed the danger; quickly jumped back and swung his own. The small weapons clashed and Oric’s cherished dagger flew off.

    Oric unfastened his small bow and were grabbing for an arrow from the quiver on his back. There was a blur to his left. Suddenly he was on the air for a moment before tumbling back to ground. The crash hurt his right shoulder. The left cheek was throbbing. It was the spearman nearest to him. He sneered, walked closer, and pointed the long weapon to finish the job.

    There was a swishing sound. The enemy archer woman gurgled, tried to feel her neck, but collapsed. An arrow penetrated her neck from behind. Its forward half protruded out in front. A hissing sound and another arrow pierced the spearman who hit Oric. He looked down and saw an arrow shaft jutting out of his stomach.

    The other two warriors turned to the direction of the attack to see two women with bows several meters away. One had an arrow ready; and was directing it to the second spearman. The other reached to her quiver. The two raiders realized they could not strike down the archers before the arrows found them. They broke up and ran away but not before the first archer shot. The arrow hit the spearman on his back. He hobbled forward but managed to stay on his feet. Using his spear for prop, he limped away slowly. His friend abandoned him. A second arrow penetrated, lower than the first. It crushed the heart and he died almost instantly.

    Oric went to and knelt beside his mother. He saw that the arrow did not enter deeply. Possibly, because the enemy was surprised; and shot by reflex with not enough time to focus.

    Meta was leaning on wooden hut. ‘Are you alright?’, she asked her son. Worriedly she examined the bruises on the left side of his head.

    It felt burning. His head hurt too. However, Oric said, ‘I’m fine. Let me help you with the arrow.’

    ‘Your cheek is swollen. Come here let me see closer.’

    She took out a small bottle from her a pocket. And applied a handful of salve on his left check. It felt cool and soon some of the pain subsided.

    ‘How is it now?’

    ‘It doesn’t hurt at all.’ He lied, but when tried to smile it stung. He flinched a little.

    Their helpers reached them. One looked at Meta’s wound. ‘Let me help.’

    She produced a dagger from belt and grazed the arrow about five centimeters from penetration. Held tightly the length bellow the cut. Grabbed the other end then bent the shaft until it snapped.

    ‘Can you endure?’

    ‘Of course I can!’ Meta snapped. Then continued calmer, ‘It is not serious, Gisa. Thank you.’

    Gisa looked at her for a moment. ‘Let us resume. We have to regroup at the hall. Let me help you.’ She moved forward to prop Meta.

    Meta refused the help. ‘Oric. Come.’

    Oric took a quick look at the spearman whose abdomen was ruptured open by the arrow. The blood was dark, more black than red. It was the liver. It would be a terrible and slow death. He was in deep agony, but did not utter even the slightest sound.

    It must be very painful. Can I be that brave?

    ‘We have to go. There is not much time.’ Gisa told them. She and her friend started to stride away.

    ‘Oric.’, his mother’s call woke him from reverie. He picked up his dagger and small bow. Meta held her son and followed.

    A moment later, they arrive at the hall. There were many wounded and more were coming. The village herbal-women were moving between the injured, helping whatever they can. The effort proved to be hopeless. Too many wounded.

    One herbalist noticed them. After checking Meta’s wound she sighed, ‘We don’t have any ointment left for you. I can only try to slow the blood oozing down with this.’

    She opened a small round container filled with salve usually for minor scratches. Deftly she applied some on the wound and put a small not-so-clean torn fabric for cover. Meta was rather pale from the lost of blood. This remedy would not help much, she knew.

    Matthias, the village eldest and season watcher, was encircled by worried hordes. Busy calming down people but was troubled himself.

    He yelled on top of the noise, ‘We have been through this many times before. We will prevail. Our warriors will defeat them.’

    ‘They killed our young! No raiders were that vile.’ A motherly old woman said.

    ‘My baby!’ Another mother screamed and raised a bloodied coat. The content of which was in everyone’s mind. Her eyes were wild and not completely sane.

    ‘Why are they butchering everyone? If it’s food they want, then demand our surrender and be done with this madness.’ An elderly man said.

    However, they knew it was not that simple. Food was life. They would fight to defend it. After all, it was the whole point of the raids.

    ‘We have sent for help to Werther. They will come.’ Matthias said.

    Werther was a town on the hill. Like any other inner town, it did not have enough fertile soil to support the habitants but easily defensible. Guntram, a village almost to the outer region, was blessed with highly productive soil. They bartered the much-needed grains for metals, weapons and most importantly protection.

    The messengers were only recently dispatched. The attack was too sudden with no warning. Matthias was not sure they would arrive before too late. Their ally, the Werthers, would also need time to mobilize the forces to relieve the village.

    Two warriors limped toward the hall. One is a big burly man with slashes all over. His left eye socket was gorged. He was supporting a very pale youth without right arm. A red soaked clothe covered where the limb should had been. Several people rushed to help them.

    The big man said to them, ‘Help him. They cut his arm.’ He opened his mouth to continue but halted and thought a moment. Sighed and continue, ‘He fought bravely.’ The kid would not make it through he thought.

    ‘Eldest.’ He walked toward the throng that surrounded Matthias.

    ‘Helmuth, has the reinforcement arrived?’ Matthias replied. It was a wishful thinking but he was thirsty for any drip of hope.

    The big Helmuth answered, ‘We’ve lost the northern and eastern walls. Sommer has only several men with him holding the northern approach. Tillo, his sons, daughters and those who were left from the East wall fought to hold them at the big tree. The ….’

    He was about to say that the enemy was breaching everywhere but decided not to, upon seeing the terror in the eyes of everyone.

    Matthias was stunned. So soon. Impossible! Nevertheless, deep down, he had been dreading for the worst. There were too many hurts and dead within a few moments into the battle. He still maintained a calm composure.

    ‘How much time do we have?’ He was grateful that his sound was firm. A panic now would be disastrous.

    There was no reply. Helmuth only looked at Matthias. There was nothing to say they both knew the answer.

    He was firm and not frightened. Matthias wondered. Is it a bold deviance or tired resignation?

    ‘Helmuth!’ Meta ran toward him. ‘Did you see my husband?’ The trembling betrayed her worry.

    It took him a moment to recognize here. A sword cut had cost him his eye. Meta? Oh, yes Heinrich. At that moment, he hated himself. I am a herald of despair and sorrow. Let it ends. Let it swiftly ends.

    He wanted to tell her that her husband fell. Under a dozen of arrows. He wanted to say how Heinrich called for her with his last breath. There was not a thing he could do. There were too many of them. The heathens cut him to pieces and he could do nothing.

    ‘He … fought bravely,’ was all he could manage.

    Meta could see what was coming. The instant Helmuth was aware of her, there was sadness in that eye.

    Oric held her hand and looked up, ‘Mother.’

    She held him tightly. He is what I have left. Heinrich, we will join you soon. Wait for us.

    There was a loud noise coming from the south. Out of a road bend, several people were fighting. They were closing to the hall. About two dozen men and women, all injured, were struggling to stem the tide. Against them were dozens upon dozens of invaders.

    Helmuth ran to help. Children screamed and looked for their parents. Some older ones, including Oric, followed Helmuth. Suddenly a hand pulled him back.

    ‘Stay here. You are not much help there. Cover them.’ Meta had a bow in her hand; was trying desperately to nock an arrow, to no avail. Her wound left her right hand too weak to move. Oric move in front to protect her.

    Within the clash, a warrior on their side parried a blow. Another enemy thrust a spear. Oric loosed his arrow. It hit the spearman on the chest. Unfortunately, his bow was small not strong enough to penetrate the enemy’s padded leather. Although, he was distracted long enough for someone to stab him down.

    Oric nocked another arrow. A big man without any armor used two battleaxes to hack down a pitiful warrior. This time Oric’s arrow killed but was too late to help the victim. Next, he fell a mounted enemy who tried to outflank from one side. He was very good with bow as his father told him. Dead now, he reminded himself.

    ‘Watch out!’ Oric stumbled and rolled to the right. His mother had pushed him away.

    Confused he looked to where he was. Two arrows landed there. The enemy had noticed him. Amazed he looked at his mother to thank her.

    ‘Mo--‘, he stopped in mid way. She was gasping for air in whizzing breaths. An arrow had punctured her chest.
    Last edited by Azalae; 09-01-03 at 10:17 PM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    The first fingers of dawn from the east heralded the coming of a new day. The dews reflected the light, creating gleaming little stars. Near fireside at nights, parents would tell its story. Children would flock and listen attentively, never tired nor bored. Years later, they would pass the story on to their own children.

    A long, long time ago, when the mountains were young, when the seas sang beautiful songs, when the winds danced with the clouds in the prairies, there was only happiness in the land. There was laughter everywhere and every day was a joyful occasion. The merry sounds reached the sky attracting the younger stars. Against the disapproval of their elders and admonition that they could never return, determined to join the festivities, some flew down. Before long, came sufferings, sadness and sickness. Life taken and possessions destroyed. The young stars tried to leave and soar back home but unable, their power gone. Every night they tried to ascend and failed. Looking at the sky forlornly hoping the others would come down and take them home. During the day, they would fade away and hide, scared of people. Then try again the following night.

    Oric looked at the dews on the grass around him, remembering the story. Once he asked his mother. Why did they have such a sad story for such an astonishing time of a day? She smiled but did not answer. Now he knew. Happiness was not eternal and before long followed by anguish. Happiness was fleeting, only death was eternal. Suffering never was far away, waiting around the corner.

    In that lovely dawn, he walked with arms and legs tied in a long string of captured slaves. The village was burned. Several long black smokes had snake up to bear witness to the destruction. It was scarcely a week ago that he celebrated a bountiful harvest with hundreds of kinsmen. Now, marching with a several of other kids as a bounty of raid.

    His mother was left lifeless. Not even a chance given to bury her. Wild animals would ravage the corpse. Carrion birds would pick on the remains. His father’s, he did not even see. They, Gisa, Helmuth, Mathias, other villagers, all were dead. No, not all. The young were spared. For further torments, he was convinced.

    That was days ago. Three days, maybe four, or even more. He was not certain but did not care. There was a persistent creaking noise. He glanced to his right. Wagons. The raiders took away every grains and meat with them. Metals they left behind. A train of wagons much longer than of the captured. A line of dead meat and a line of living flesh soon to die. The thought amused him and he smiled wryly.

    ‘Found something hilarious?’ A raider walking to his left asked.

    He did not answer. Stared passively and stretched the parched lips wider to show his teeth. The guard was not pleased. A hard blow was the gift. Another bruise on top of his unhealed injuries from the battle. There was only a scarce of water and food given when stopping at nights, but countless beatings.

    They walked and walked. They were twenty-one when starting this march of death, as he called it. Now only fifteen. The first day out, a small weak boy collapsed and could not get up. A warrior cut the ropes then told the others to continue. We left him behind to die alone. He was lucky. His would be quick. Two girls fell the next day. Three, two boys and a girl, the next. Would it be four this day?

    The line halted. He almost bumped against the boy in front. He raised his head and focused the eyes. It was afternoon. They had arrived at the murderous invader’s town. It was surrounded by high solid walls made of cut stones. Far stronger than their village’s wooden palisade. Charred ashes now. Pair of strong high wooden gates were locked shut. It would take many hours battering them down. Overhead, spikes of iron pointing downward ready to smash onto assailants. There were also small holes and outlets to pour through heated liquids. Pennons and streamers lined the walls.

    Several sentries with bows, javelins or spears looked down. They cheered the incoming war party that was successful in its assignment and carrying home bounties. The wooden gates opened up. The wagons started to move forward under a high archway. Men, women and children line up the wide main entry road, more were coming to see the parade. There was loud shout of approval as the wagons filled to the brim with food passed by.

    Oric and the other captured children waited. What they would do when they see us, he wondered. Strike on us, throw out rocks, or take our eyes out? A big warrior using the spear end hit the kid on the head of the line to move. They walked forward. The gateway loomed closer and closer. The town denizens watched them entered.

    The cheers and shouts died down. People just stared and became speechless. A baby cried and kids gawked. What do they expect? This is what defeated foes look like. Is this not what you want, Oric screamed in his mind. Are you not satisfied? Ah, I see, it is pity.

    Anger filled up his chest. Pity me not, because the time shall come when I take vengeance upon you. I will flatten this city and slay all its inhabitants. Each and all of its allies will be brought to heel and broken. For every tears shed there will be a stream to follow. Whatever the sacrifice, whatever the means, however long. Since the gods paid no heed to our plea for help, our own hands will carry the justice.

    ‘This I avow! The sky is my witness!’ He screamed at the top of his lungs.

    There was a sudden gust of wind. A banner pole tumbled down from the wall and knocked over a charcoal brazier. A tongue of flame found the flag and burned it as fast as the wind suddenly died down. Oric heard laughter in his head.

    ‘It is an omen. Evil omen!’ Someone gasped.

    The flame had thoroughly smoldered the flag to cinder. A red flag, with the picture of a spear pointing upward in the middle, crossed over at an angle by an arrow to the left and a sword to the right. Red, the color of betrayal. For it was the banner of Werther, their supposed ally.

    There was that laughter again. Oric heard in his mind: 'Fear not young Theodoric. I will bestow upon you power to bring wrath on these vermin. I will guide you and you will be mine.' The laughter was getting fainter and fainter.
    Last edited by Azalae; 09-27-03 at 10:01 PM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    [size=4]Chapter 2[/size]

    198 years after Cataclysm
    Third year of Fabien IV

    Etienne stood still, straight, looking to the front, hands by the side. The muscles at his legs were protesting the cruelty. Sweat beads were emerging on his temple. He was not allowed to move at all. Three long hours had passed and, if past occurrences were any indication, at least another would come before allowed to go.

    It was a very spacious room. On a high-raised dais, thirteen tables of smooth white marble. One at the center was higher than the rest. The floor was made of black granite so clean you can see reflections. There was no other furniture. Councilors from high above would look down on any supplicants. The sparse fixtures and solid structure material echoed any sound. The effect was intimidating for those unprepared

    According to whispered rumors, it was where Corentine the Terrible slay the whole council of arch-mages, many decades ago. Etienne felt the tingling sensation through out his body as he imagined the encounter. Thirteen greatest arch-mages of the time against one lone prodigal student. It was a battle of powerful spells and pure raw power. They never had a change. It ended within a few minutes.

    The central seat was different from the rest. It was black but Etienne could see multitude of colors swirling inside if he focused closely. Skulls of human size and form adorned the sides. A silver dragon cranium hovered above over the head. It was crafted by Corentine himself. The skulls were of his major opponents’, appended one by one to the chair. The dragon was his first ever opponent after he enrolled at The Universite. He killed it alone without any help when he was seventeen, not even yet a qualified mage. Of course, most people believed that Corentine found it already dead and claimed as trophy. It certainly was more plausible, since even a dozen great mages would not dare challenge a single dragon. Until Corentine proclaimed himself god and demonstrated his capabilities.

    Today, the seats were empty, except one beside the central throne. It was used by an elderly man, white bearded, bald, with gentle features, and kind eyes. Totally submerged within the book he was reading. Councilor Romain was an arch-mage with considerable power, at least in this time. Etienne was fond of him. He was strict but kind enough, kinder than other teachers were.

    Suddenly Romain let out a sigh and closed his eyes. After a while, he opened them and looked at Etienne, smiling.

    ‘Wonderful story. Quite entertaining. It is becoming harder and harder to discover enjoyment in my age, hmm?’

    Etienne smiled back but did not answer.

    ‘Little Etienne. You did not take my advice, I see.’

    Etienne did not reply. This had become a dull routine.

    ‘Instructor Yannic complained that you, yet again, refused to follow her instructions. Instead you cast a different spell.’

    Still Etienne kept his silence. There was no point in debating.

    ‘We have to repair the class room now. Yes, it baldly needed renovation before. This is a good opportunity, hmm?’ Romain chuckled.

    Etienne grinned. He still remembered how angry instructor Yannic was, when his combustion spell went awry.

    ‘Vivien and Quentin, won’t find it amusing, hmm? Thankfully their injury was not severe.’

    Etienne was shocked when he saw two of his classmates caught fire. Instructor Yannic quickly rescued them.

    Romain continued, ‘You are … ten yes? Third academic class. Sorcery studies at sixth.’

    This time Etienne replied, ‘I don’t like mundane lessons. Magic is more fun.’

    ‘Yes, you’ve told everyone. Several times. All teachers agree that you are very bright. But, too volatile. That flame arrow, you studied yourself, hmm?’

    ‘Yes!’ Etienne answered proudly.

    ‘Level eight spell. Amazing, even if not successful--‘

    ‘It will be next time. I realized now, that I focused the heat too much and hold it too long. I kept thinking of possible shooting paths when I should have released it. All the time I was getting wearier and wearier from the exertion. Then I accidentally released it. It expanded too fast thus exploded too early. However, now that I had learn from my mistake the next--’

    Etienne suddenly realized that councilor Romain merely smiled and did not say anything. He felt embarrassed and stop himself.

    ‘What did you learn from that incident?’ Romain asked.

    ‘Control is an absolute must. The power of elemental spells increased immensely each second, thus should be discharged as soon as possible. I should have chosen the target prior to casting, not during, to prevent prolonged delay.’

    Councilor Romain did not answer.

    After a minute, uncomfortable, Etienne continued, ‘Maybe also that heat wave expands, so I should contain the flames inside some cold elements. At least temporarily until impact, to avoid premature discharge.’

    Still nothing from Romain.

    ‘Did I … did I miss anything? Please point my errors.’

    ‘Two of your friends were hurt.’

    ‘It was accidental.’

    ‘Exactly! You cannot control everything. You are not prepared for that high level yet. Each casting diminish the stamina of the caster, you knew that.’

    ‘But it won’t happen again. It was my first eighth level.’ Etienne argued. He knew that there was no students at his level can even start to perform the feat.

    ‘Little Etienne. Knowledge is a double-edged sword. Wisdom is the sword handle. Patience is the scabbard. Do you know what you have?’

    ‘Surely not wisdom or patience.’ Etienne was becoming bored of this conversation.

    ‘Ambition and recklessness. Your teachers also reported that you are mostly interested in destructive spells.’

    ‘It is where the power is. All the time they teach feather levitation, changing the color of pets’ furs, calling owls to deliver messages. Stupid skills. Corentine could stop time, summon legions of undead, call rain of fire, topple mountains, and control the mind of a whole city.’

    Etienne almost yelled aloud the last part. He always paid attention in history class. The parts about Corentine. Corentine was very powerful. A model of what magician should be. What he aspired to become He was frustrated by the Universite pathetic lessons.

    Suddenly councilor Romain stood up, white knuckles on the table, and shouted, ‘Corentine burned continents. Corentine murdered tens of thousands of people. Corentine brought sufferings to millions others. Corentine was responsible for the decline of our beloved country of Aristidea. Corentine was with ambition to become god. Corentine was absolute evil.’

    Etienne was surprised with the outburst from Romain. He had never seen the gentle man angry. Romain was shaking with rage; and tried desperately to control himself. There was a moment of silence.

    Finally Romain continued, ‘It is good that Corentine was finally defeated.’

    ‘The whole world banded together in opposition to him. Hundres of arch-mages jointly assailed him in central Gutteslund. Corentine was alone, betrayed by all, and attacked from everywhere. That was a cowardly way to defeat someone. They should have--’

    ‘That single clash took thousands of life, destroyed Gutteslund nation, and slaughtered thousands mages, the great and the low.’ Romain took a deep breath. ‘My ancestors were there.’

    Ah, I understand now, Etienne thought.

    After composing himself and sat down, Councilor Romain declared the reprimand. ‘You will sweep the floors, wipe the windows, tend the gardens and feed the animals until you realize your mistakes.’

    Etienne gapped at this. ‘You want me to become … become a … a slave?’

    ‘Not a slave. You will work with them as servants, yes. Nevertheless, no lashes will find your body and you will eat suitable cooking.’

    ‘You can’t do that! This is unfair. All I want to do is study magic.’ Etienne screamed with horror.

    ‘The only thing preventing us from throwing you out of Universite, is your noble father’s position at court. It is time you learn. Harsh lesson is always the best.’
    Last edited by Azalae; 09-18-03 at 03:36 AM.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    On a warm day, Etienne found himself in the middle of an epic and eternal battle. In a war, that has been plaguing humanity since time immemorial. Many good men had embarked to the battleground. Many among them yielded since the enemy had a boundless number.

    He was washing a window. It was clean a few days ago. However, when he looked this morning, as sure as the sun always rose in the east, there was dust covering the surface. It was an eternal struggle.

    Still, it was one of the better chores. On the other side of the glass panel, he could see students practicing a spell. Followed the instructions and demonstration from a middle-aged woman. Loudly chanting and waving their wands.

    ‘Oh no, not levitation again.’ Etienne watched with growing gloom. ‘Four months now. Don’t they have anything better?’

    Soon the class was over. Young-would-be-magi stormed out of the room. The same room, that Etienne’s flame arrow went wry and wrecked, some three months ago. Several apprentices saw and went toward him, among them Quentin and Vivien.

    ‘Came to burn down the room for the second time. Eh, Etienne?’

    Quentin and Etienne were never good friends. The accident certainly did not improve their relationship.

    ‘I thought hairless was the style, friend Quentin.’ Etienne replied.

    Vivien’s hand reached up to the top of her head when she realized and let it fall back down to the side. She had to wear a hat for two months. Embarrassment and anger filled her mind whenever she thought about it. Oh, it was such a beautiful hair. Shining black and smooth as silk. The talk of the school and her pride. The re-growth was very slow.

    ‘You are not allowed to learn magic anymore!’ Vivien lashed, knowing it was his true passion.

    Etienne looked at her. After a minute he replied, ‘Not allowed to practice. I wasn’t.’

    ‘You were stealing a look at our study!’ Quentin attacked now that he saw an opening.

    ‘You mean the “Static Solid Levitation” spell? Hah! And you’ve been practicing on a feather. For four months!’ He showed his disgust.

    The group knew Etienne was better than they were in sorcery studies. Some were embarrassed by this. Even they wondered of the use of such pathetic spells. However, Vivien would not let him go away easily, not after what he had done to her hair.

    ‘Maybe you can teach us a better one. Perhaps the “Gleaming Windows” spell. Or the “Dirt Demolish” enchantment.’

    ‘Don’t forget the famous and supreme “Dish Now Clean”!’ Quentin followed up amidst laughter.

    Water splashed over them. Etienne resented the punishment given him. With great efforts, he endured, only for magic. His mother was saddened by his choice. His siblings mocked him. His father gave up and exiled him here, no longer wanting to know anything about him.

    Now there were these mediocre classmates, who still had trouble with plain and simple spells. The bucket filled with dirty water was conveniently nearby. He was already running away when they realized what just happened and started to chase, screaming with threats and insults.

    There was at least one benefit out of months cleaning rooms, sweeping floors, washing plates and bowls, and suffering great indignity. Now he knew the layout of Universite much better than any other students did. He led them through mazes of the old inner buildings that had not been used for a long time. Finally, the pursuers gave up but determined that the teachers should know about this affront.

    Etienne crouched down and took a moment to catch his breath. The air was stale here. Every single torch holders were empty. There would be no light during nights. Only faint light through filthy windows provided illumination. Some corridors were covered by thick dust.

    ‘From the endless tasks they gave us, I thought we cleaned up every cornice.’

    He got up and started to walk back but halted and wondered.

    ‘Why should I rush to my chastisements? It won’t hurt to see what’s inside some of the rooms either.’

    He chose the middle passage, which was the widest with highest arcs overhead. There were several doors to the right and left on wide intervals, all locked tightly. At the end was a twin doors several meters high. By chance, they were not bolted. Etienne thought the hinges should had been rusted and so shoved forward with all his might. It opened slowly accompanied with creaking noises.

    The flying dust in the air entered his nose when he stepped inside. Amidst coughs, Etienne pulled his shirt upward to cover his nose and mouth. The room could easily challenge the Council Chamber in size, and grandeur after a thorough cleaning. Rows and rows of high bookshelves populated the area to the left and right. There were several tables in the middle. On the one nearest to the doors was an open book. Etienne ambled forward and randomly read from the page.
    • Day 12, Month 7, eleventh year of Great Red

      I eliminated the council. They would not understand, had stood in my path for far too long, and will serve as a counsel for others.

    Etienne stopped reading. It was just an ordinary account. He never bothered with diaries and could not see the point in maintaining one.

    ‘Great Red eleventh. That was almost two centuries ago when Aristidea was at its peak. When magic ruled the land.’

    He turned around to leave. It was getting dark and he did not have any light with him. At the doors, he stopped and hurriedly went back to the journal. He continued the reading.
    • No more petty squabbles. Insurgents will be eliminated. Too long, we had been denied our place.

      The time has come. We both agreed.

      Tomorrow Aristidea rises.

    ‘Day 13, Month 7.’ Etienne thought aloud. ‘Every year on that day we go the courtyard. To commemorate the great tragedy of long time past.’

    He was worried now, not because of what he found. But that he might be mistaken. Trembling with anticipation and wishing very hard that he were correct. He closed the book. Slowly open the first page. There on the white paper was written one word: Corentine.

    That night Etienne was admonished yet again by Councilor Romain. His mind was somewhere else though. Thinking hard on how he could keep coming back to that hall to read the book. It was too big to hide in his room. Suddenly the answer presented itself.

    ‘Since you seem to like going to that old section, your task from tomorrow morning is to cleanse that place and maintain it spotless. Until atonement and repentant.’

    Romain had no idea how true it was. Etienne carefully hid his delight and as morosely as possible accepted the chore.

    During all these events, Etienne failed to speculate why the twin big doors were not locked. That in the middle of a chamber thick white with dust was not a speck on the journal. How a book two century old could still be in good condition with pure white pages. Why such a dangerous book was be left lying open there. And by whom.
    Last edited by Azalae; 09-15-03 at 02:19 AM.

  9. #9
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    [size=4]Chapter 3[/size]

    Thirteenth year of Fabien IV

    One spring morning, a few kilometers north from Chalosne, two armies met.

    The insurgent forces of Duke Leon of Chateuthion were arrayed to the north, between a small hill in the right, and left sparse woods. Two thousand slaves wearing leathers, armed with pikes, were deployed in a broad line in the front. It was shifting and undisciplined. Sergeants were walking fro and back, bellowing to keep the columns under control. Behind them, a three-company regiment from Gutteslund with red banners, a spear crossed by an arrow and a sword. The two companies of six hundred archers were placed directly behind the pikemen. The light cavalry company was kept father behind as reserve, with several heavy cavalries of the Duke personal guards. Other mercenaries from various kingdoms were divided equally to both flanks. They consisted mostly of foot archers, javelin throwers and slingers, with some light infantry and light cavalry, all three hundred heads combined.

    A few hundred meters to the south was the army of Aristidea, the Royal Guards, and the forces of loyal nobles. Four hundred mounted knights protected by heavy plate armors, couching spears three-meter long, were front most. Each and every one bearing personal coat of arms and charms from fair maidens; to them it was the moment to prove their gallantry. Squires and cavalrymen wearing hauberks, two hundred in total, closely followed all eager to demonstrate their worth. Then rows and rows of five thousand militias all slaves, with pikes, spears and light armors. On both flanks a company of two hundred crossbows.

    The Chateuthion army took the first move. A few forward squads of Gutteslund archers shot a volley. Dozens of arrow flew high to the sky, arced at the peak, then plunged rapidly down. Several knights on the southern side fell to the ground, pierced by numerous arrows. The wounded screamed and cursed. A few comrades dismounted to assist. No sooner than they reached the injured, another shower of projectiles hit.

    Deeply enraged by this insult, the knights charged forward. Intend upon destruction and slaughter of the abhorrent cowards, who did not have the courage to fight face to face and hid behind their bows. The squires quickly followed, not wanting to be denied the chance to fame. The slave infantry, the unwilling participants of the battle, after a moment moved slowly and cautiously, booted and prodded by their officers. The crossbowmen could not provide any help, outranged by the enemy’s composite bows.

    Suddenly the entire six hundred Gutteslund archers shot. Every four seconds six hundred arrows were loosed. Before the previous flight reached the peak, another volley was already on air. The sky was covered by dark cloud of lethal piercing iron heads and wooded shafts, which descended with an eerie sound of mortality. Men and horses fell and did not rise again. Plate mails were covered by dozen of missiles.

    A few mounted loyalist knights, the fastest, managed to close within twenty meters of the rebel force, to be cut down by thrown javelins and shot by foot archers on the flanks. In one minute, almost ten thousand arrows covered the ground between the two opposing forces. Red blood soaked the ground turning it into mires. The only mounted warriors that the loyal Aristidean army had left were of Captain General Perceval retainers.

    Seeing the disaster befallen the cavalries, the infantry halted. The slaves broke and ran away. The sergeants, who tried to contain them, were knocked down and stabbed with pikes. The crossbowmen were of Aristidea Royal Guards and more disciplined; they drew back more orderly.

    Duke Leon was beaming and pleased with the victory; ordered general advance. His slave infantry now emboldened by the destruction of feared enemy mounted units, moved forward but soon broke into an unorganized full charge. The mercenaries roaring and yelling taunts followed suit. The Gutteslund mercenary regiment, all veterans, proceeded more calmly.

    The mire and mud in the middle of the battlefield made walking difficult, delayed the progress. The infantry hacked down on some knights who were still alive. Some were pulling off the armors and looting weapons, before lashed out by their commanders. Several tribal mercenaries cut off fingers and ears as token trophy.

    Unexpectedly the mud froze, holding down legs, trapping everyone where he or she stood. Wall of overgrowth plants materialized between them and the fleeing defeated army. Chopping, slashing, they tried to extricate themselves to no avail.

    ‘Magi,’ Duke Leon snarled, ‘Captain, your achers!’ He instructed the Gutteslund regiment commander.

    After several flights of arrows, the ground unfroze and the overgrowth disappeared. The Chateuthion forces resumed their advance. Nevertheless, enough time had been bought. The loyalist, what was left of it, had disappeared.

    The same day, the gates of Chalosne open to welcome the rebels inside without a fight. The Royal Guards had abandoned the town.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    The North Spring palace was being restored after decades of neglects. It had aged terribly and crumbled at places. Some rooms had been abandoned for many years; the reparation cost was too dear. Only the older city dwellers could remember, from their much younger days, its ancient splendors. The duke had ordered its occupation. The name of the place favored his campaign.

    One big room was used as an assembly hall. It had been vacant for more than a decade until that day. Hours of thorough cleaning effort had not managed to restore it totally, and one sidewall required heavy repairs. Furniture was taken from town hall for the meeting that afternoon following occupation.

    Two soldiers from the duke personal guard regiment stood by the door, stared straight ahead ever watchful. The duke sat at the head of a long table in the only chair in the big room. Maps, old and new, and other papers littered the table. The duke was a sizeable middle-aged man; signs of a formidable warrior from his youth were slowly swamped over by the passing of time. His brown beard was turning grey and the hairline receded more and more every year.

    Beside him was a gangly and lean younger man, Gregoire, personal assistant and advisor. His forte was not martial prowess and it showed. The eyes were sharp; they watch everything that took place, and more. The hair was dune colored, light and bright, traits of northern tribes’ heritage, as was often whispered.

    At the end of the table was the Count Dieudonne, governor of Chaslone County; plump, the fruit of years of prosper and sordid details. His large belly overflowed the girth and hindered his bowing any lower. He dabbed the sweats that glistened at the forehead every several minutes.

    ‘Your Grace, we are vastly grateful for your protection and wish to congratulate you on your victory. My chattels are yours.’ Count Dieudonne bowed.

    Duke of Chateuthion smiled he motioned to his assistant for drinks. Gregoire walked to a cupboard and poured some cooled wine into two clear crystal glasses. He served one to the duke and another to the count.

    ‘Indeed?’ He replied. ‘I thought you were forever loyal subject of the glorious majesty?’

    ‘I am, Your Grace, I am. Everyone knows that you are the true sovereign. You are the heir of Caderyn. Thus, I am your forever loyal subject.’ The count answered cleary without any trace of tremble in his voice.

    ‘I am of the blood, yes. But my ancestor was not an heir.’ The duke smiled. He sipped the wine.

    Count of Chaslone was at a loss of what to answer. His future depended on what would be said here today.

    After several moment of silence the duke continued, ‘How is the family?’

    Glad of the change of topic, the count answered, ‘Very well your grace. My eldest son had wanted to join your retinue since last year. My younger will also, as soon as he comes of age.’

    ‘Indeed? Marvelous.’

    The duke put the glass on the table and said to his advisor, ‘Gregoire, see to it that the count’s sons are safely escorted to Chateuthion, departing tomorrow. Have some rooms prepared for them at my castle.’

    ‘Certainly, Your Grace.’ Gregoire replied.

    ‘Your Grace, my … my lady … she will weep the sudden parting. Mayhap … another month. To … to soften her heart?’ The count said haltingly, this time his voice trembled.

    ‘She will? Perhaps she wants to accompany them?’

    ‘She … she is unwell, Your Grace.’

    ‘Indeed? Gregoire, tell my doctors to check on her.’

    ‘There is no need, Your Grace. We … we dare not receive this … this blessing.’

    ‘Nonsense. It’s settled then. You may go now.’

    Weakly the overweight count walked to the door. One of the two guards opened it for him. He did not touch the offered drink.

    After he left the room, the Duke glance at his advisor. ‘Station a squad of my personal guard and a company of foots near his house. Then, inform the commanders of a meeting tomorrow morning.’
    Last edited by Azalae; 09-27-03 at 10:00 PM.

  11. #11
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    The entire night, the dirt and dust in the conference room were relentlessly attacked by the slaves. Yet, even under such continuous assaults, some pocket resistances continued to defy at secluded corners; holding on with determined perseverance to fight yet another day. Nonetheless, the cleaning effort gained considerable grounds. The following morning, the room was more presentable and the smell was much less pronounced.

    ‘The supply train should be ready to depart within eight days.’ Gregorie looked at the leather bound book he held. ‘We are securing wagons and barges and would be able to transport more armaments and weaponries in one month.’

    ‘How is the reinforcement?’ The duke asked from the window looking out to the small square outside. Several people were milling about watching the bodies hanging by the ropes.

    ‘They should reach the gate in twenty days; five hundred foot, some seven hundred mercenaries and about fifty engineers.’

    Standing beside Gregoire was Rudolf, captain general of the Werther expeditionary forces. He was ordinarily built, of average height, and not exceptionally muscular; sun darkened skin, short-cropped hair, and thick brows above sharp eyes. ‘His Majesty sent another battalion: two hundred cavalry, three hundred bows and five hundred medium infantry.’

    The duke turned to look at him. This was a pleasant surprise. ‘How magnanimous of Prince Hildebrand. Marvelous! I shall remember His Majesty assistance when I assume the throne. Speaking of which, what news is the Fabien’s army?’

    A commander to Rudolf’s right, taller than he was, answered. ‘The cavalry is nipping at their heels but could not do as much damage as hopped. Their magi proved to be ... resourceful. I’m afraid they would manage to reach the Mountadeau stronghold.’

    ‘We can aid you.’ A thin rasping sound stated from the door.

    The entrance was open. The guards inside the room and outside stood still unmoving. An old man wearing luxurious clothing stepped slowly to the table. His head was covered with white sparse hairs, blots of liver spots marked his pale white skin. Behind him were four people following a few paces behind.

    One was an attractive smooth skinned young woman. Long golden hair flowed down to her back. Two daggers sat comfortably on the belt. Next to her is another woman, but less alluring. She was muscular and dark skinned, short haired, and carried a long sword.

    A lad with fiery red hair went to admire a painting near the door. He whistled appreciatively and stroked his clean shaved chin. The tone were erratic, low then high pitched and back down deep; but somehow corresponded with the chronicle image of a battle long time past.

    A huge towering figure rumbled as he walked. He turned around and closed the door then followed the old man to the table. A menace even without the massive battle-axe strapped to his back.

    Immediately all hands at the table went to individual weapons. Rudolf was the first to react, followed by other officers. Gregorie, lacking personal arm, drew back. Leon saw that the guards still did not move an inch. The newcomers, while impertinently dared to bear arms, did not seem to challenge anyone. He quickly realized who these uninvited guests were.

    ‘Stay your hands!’ He commanded then turned to the old man at head of the group. ‘Very impressive. You are?’

    The old man smiled, ‘Alden’.

    Duke Leon waited for several seconds but Alden did not seem inclined to introduce his companions. The red hair was busy admiring the paintings in the room; whistled different tunes at each. The fine-looking lass smiled beautifully, capturing the attention of several of commanders. The other woman scowled at this. The bear like man had closed his eyes and crossed his arms.

    Finally, the duke replied, ‘Only five of you against cadres from the Universite?’

    ‘We are better than they are.’ Briefly, the smile grew into a grin.

    ‘Why would you help us?’

    ‘We feel that there is no one more suitable for the seats of Universite councilors than us. The current councilors do not agree and neither does Fabien.’ There was no emotion when Alden explained, as if it was all evident.

    Leon stared at him then the others one by one for several minutes. Rudolf was lost in his own thought, weighing this sudden development and its effects on the alliance between Chateuthion and Werther.

    ‘Gregorie,’ the duke exclaimed unexpectedly, waking up everyone from reverie. ‘Pour some wine for everyone. We will have a toast for our new ally.’
    Last edited by Azalae; 09-27-03 at 09:59 PM.

  12. #12
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    [size=4]Chapter 4[/size]

    The day was fast becoming hot. Etienne imagined sweats gushing down his back. It itched terribly but no matter how many times he scratched, it would not go away. The smell was revolting, thousands of soldiers and slaves all perspiring together with the animals.

    He was somewhat content though. After all the waiting for years and years, finally, the time had come to prove his talents. They were marching with the second army to reinforce Captain General Perceval host, under Duke Humbert of Mauvergne, cousin of His Majesty himself.

    What a snotty nobleman as far I am concerned. Doesn’t understand the true value of magic users. We’ll show him how to win the war then he’ll open his eyes.

    The other apprentice magi were in no better condition than he was. It was the first time on the horse for most of them. After a lifetime accustomed to carriage, now were jogged up and down violently on saddles. He could swear the beasts did it on purpose. His throat was parched dry too, by all the dirt that crowded in whenever he opened his mouth.

    Why can’t we ride at the front? Why eat dust in the wake of daft knights with their daft tokens from daft maidens at daft castles. Daft arrangement!

    He looked around over his shoulders. Behind, infantry battalions followed. All faces covered by dirt, dark as soot. However, their mouths were covered by strips of fabric, attached to the helmets.

    Etienne swiveled around and grabbed his waterskin. Cleaned his mouth, gulped a bit and spitted out, then drank a mouthful. He reached inside his pocket. It was an expensive silk handkerchief. Carefully he laid it across his face just bellow the nose and tied it up.

    He turned around to the infantrymen behind, put a thumb up and smiled. The soldier carrying the banner nodded, the others did not respond. Bunch of miserable men. No fun at all!

    Vivien, several rows in front of him, was busy trying to cover her hair. It was tousled and soiled now. Curious how some people nearby still found her attractive, and kept staring at her. For the how many times that day she complained. ‘My hair oh my hair. Why can’t we ride in a coach? This journey is dreadful.’

    The ever-loyal Quentin tried to console her, ‘Because it would be hard to maneuver a carriage in battle. We would arrive at Mountadeau soon. Here use my cloak for cover,’ and started to unclasp the clipper.

    ‘I told you it’s too hot already. Do you want me to boil under it?’ Her voice was rising.

    Etienne could not help but laugh. Quentin shot him an angry look. Vivien were near to tears from the frustration.

    Trying hard to contain his mirth, Etienne looked away. Several apprentices were reading books, memorizing and learning spells. He was amazed anyone could read on horse.

    He looked another way. Behold, there was Fat Valery struggling with his breastplate. ‘Valery you’re supposed to wear that thing. Not fondle it lovingly!’

    The chubby youth replied but did not turn around, ‘Oh shut up already! This plate must weight a ton. It grates my skin too.’

    Etienne nudged the horse to walk faster, until alongside Valery. He looked at the armor. ‘Where did you steal that iron torture? Doesn’t suit your delicate figures; not that there are many that do. Where’s the rest, the helmet, sleeves coverings, gloves, shin protections?’

    ‘Do you know how hot it is inside this one piece only? Anyway, bought from one of the knight up ahead. Fair and square.’ Valery released the clasps and looked at the plate incredulously.

    ‘What, you eager to clash at first line like heroes in the song? That’s where their place is, songs. And a couple meter under.’

    Valery leaned closer to Etienne and whispered, ‘Lower your voice! Don’t want those muscle-brawnies affronted.’ Then beamed, ‘This is my protection!’

    He looked Etienne up and down, ‘That beautiful silk won’t save you from harms.’

    Etienne grinned, ‘I have my magic. Besides, silk stops arrows from puncturing too deep. Don’t you know?’

    Valery was about to say something when a rider passed by shouting a halt. The army stopped.

    Vivien’s voice pierced the racket, ‘What’s going on? Are we there?’

    Several foot companies broke away and sprinted forward. A line was starting to form. Squires prepared the lances for their knights. Crossbows were cocked and bolts were set.

    Councillor Romain rode back from the head of the army. The bald elderly man shouted to them, ‘Magi, prepare for an engagement!’

  13. #13
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    Hey! I just finished reading, and I have to say, I like your writing! What more is there to say, although sometimes, I would be a bit confused on what is happening...guess I'm not that good with these kind of stories haha. Anyway, I see you don't have much readers here, so I'm here to read it! I understand that it isn't as populated when the characters are fictional...but speaking of that, IS it fictional? You said it's fantasy, hm, never mind. Anyway, keep your story going, I'll support you!

    Update soon, latta!

  14. #14
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Originally posted by greeniceflower
    Hey! I just finished reading, and I have to say, I like your writing! What more is there to say, although sometimes, I would be a bit confused on what is happening...guess I'm not that good with these kind of stories haha. Anyway, I see you don't have much readers here, so I'm here to read it! I understand that it isn't as populated when the characters are fictional...but speaking of that, IS it fictional? You said it's fantasy, hm, never mind. Anyway, keep your story going, I'll support you!

    Update soon, latta!
    Thank you.

    Sorry for all the mispellings and broken grammars.

    The story is fictional, with fantasy influence. No elfs or dwarfs but there is magic (a lot).

    The character names are 'real' in the sense that I didn't make them up. Gutteslund names are Germanic (Gutteslund = Gods' Land). Aristidean names are French. Aristidea = Aristides, (greek) = 'the best', because they had the best land and consider themselves superior.

    All these are background information that I will disclose steadily little by little.

    Which part(s) are you confused with? I'll try to explain. Sometimes I forgot readers don't have my notes.

    Oh and the Calendar doesn't use Gregorian system.

    Aristidean Calendar
    1 minute = 60 seconds
    1 hour = 60 minutes
    1 day = 24 hours
    There is no 'week' -- since there is no 'Sunday'
    1 month = 30 days
    1 year = 12 months (360 days)

    A period is an ordinal series of numbers, named after the current ruling sovereign -- (Gregorian based on Christ birthday, e.g. 2003 AD)

    e.g. 11th year of ABC = 11 years after King ABC took the throne

    But this is only for Aristidea. Different regions may have different systems.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    (double post)
    Last edited by Azalae; 10-01-03 at 04:25 AM.

  16. #16
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    In the bowl of the valley ahead, Etienne could see the clash. A red fist banner, Captain General Perceval’s, was flying over a rag-tag pitiful army. The remnant of Aristidean First Army was being chased and harassed by a smaller but fast moving enemy cavalries. The Chateuthion forces were slashing and cutting down on three sides.

    The mounted elements of Duke Humbert’s Second Army immediately galloped forward to join the fight. Knights, Duke Humbert’s three sons among them, and squires under heavy shirt of shining mails. Each and all was eager for personal feat. Companies of Royal Guards, sword and shields soldiers and crossbowmen, advanced more slowly behind.

    The infantry of volunteers and slaves, which made the bulk of Second Army, was in disorder. Their officers were struggling to obtain control. The magi cadres were positioned far to the back. Long moment of argument between Duke of Mouvergne and Councilor Romain did not bear any fruit, to the disappointment and dismay of the cadres.

    Valery had managed to don his breastplate on, an admirable achievement given his measurements. ‘Etienne, can you see anything?’

    Etienne stood on a small mound for better view. He raised his hand to cover the eyes from afternoon lights. ‘I can see a banner. Red fist on white; Perceval’s. It’s the First Army alright. Surrounded by Chauteuthion’s mounted. Not many though. I’d say two hundred. Mercenaries by their looks.’ Etienne sighed. This won’t take long we outnumber them by far. No need for us to participate.’

    ‘Yeah, so boring. And I had bought this heavy armor for this.’ Valery complained. Nevertheless, he sounded relieved.

    Just as he was about to go down, Etienne saw another company of mounted soldiers emerged, from the trees to the east. The red-bannered enemies, armed with bows, poured out from the woods heading straight for knights. As the two units were about to collide, the archers loosed dozens of arrows, then pivoted and ran alongside the knights’ right flank. Several toppled, pierced by the missiles. Swiftly another volley sped fast, taking down more targets.

    A few enraged knights abandoned the charge to clash with this repulsive irritant. The mounted archers avoided them and turned away. Wearing heavy plates and carrying long lances, they could not hope to catch the swift lightly armored horse archers. Another volley was released. The pursuers were fatally pierced; some were knocked out of their saddles. The red banners resumed their original path, hitting the charging knights from the side.

    Etienne could not believe his eyes. ‘They are being slowly slaughtered out there!’

    Vivien seated herself on a stone after Quentin brushed its surface with his kerchief. ‘Of course! No one can challenge heavy cavalry on open terrains.’

    ‘What? No, I meant the porcupines are slaughtered by archers.’ Slowly Etienne added, ‘Archers riding horses.’

    Silently Romain went up the mound to observe the scene.

    Vivien looked at Etienne and Romain. Confusion was written on her face. ‘I’ve never heard of archer riding a horse.’

    ‘Gutteslundian, they favor bows. Composite bows.’ Romain explained.

    By then, the knights had been completely taken by fury. They deserted the original plan to aid the First Army and chased the archers, intent to recover their honor. The Gutteslund easily outpaced them and indolently loosed arrows after arrows from safe distance.

    The Royal Guards reached the piteous Perceval’s host. Some hope entered the heart of the encircled soldiers. The crossbows drove the enemy raiders away, but not for long, their shooting range was limited and reloading took time. The enemies who were mounted evaded the crossbows and attacked the other sides. Each time the Royal Guards repositioned, they ran away to return and strike another points.

    Duke Humbert cursed at the top of his lung. The sergeants had not managed controlling the militia infantry. The Royal Guards were occupied and hardly able to subdue the enemy cavalry. The knights’ assistance was dearly needed. However, they were too taken with pursuing the mounted archers, who easily outpaced and took their lives from a safe distance.

    Etienne smiled. This is my chance. He started to prepare casting a fire spell. Elemental power coursed through his body, focused at his right hand. He felt the ecstasy, and fear. What if I fail?

    The temperature rose. The air crackled. Romain looked at him. ‘Etienne what are you doing? Etienne? Answer me!’

    Etienne closed his eyes. He sought for the enemies. There! Horses. No, too heavy, must be the knights. He searched farther. Bows. Yes, found them!

    The built up energy was scorching but he kept adding more. He started to shake; the effort was taxing his endurance. Even then, he continued to intensify the spell. Vaguely he could hear Romain ordering him to stop. When he could not hold it any longer, he opened his eyes and discharged the energy. Etienne sagged down to his knees, completely spent.

    The elemental energy left his hand. It turned into a blazing sphere of fire that swiftly passed through the valley, hovering a meter above the ground. The grasses promptly burned and turned into asses in seconds, the soil smoldered. It sped fast until silently, the ball of fire enveloped the Guttelundian mounted archers.

    Inside the inferno, leather body armors and bridles blazed. Iron hooves, helmets, and arrowheads melted. Riders dropped to the ground and rolled, desperately trying to quench the fire without success. The horses neighed and did not fare any better.

    Skins swelled up creating blisters that quickly erupted, spurting red blood. Eyes bulged, exploded from the heat. Men and horses turned into living torches, shrieking with horrific sound. The suffering warriors desperately pled for help that would not come. Flesh dissolved into liquids, dripping to the ground, exposing internal organs. Those too burned to a crisp; lungs exploded releasing heated air. They were no more than skeletons covered with strips of flesh. Some were still alive and could still fully feel the torture. The bones cracked and broke apart into small pieces. The fire relentlessly devoured the remnants. Until only there were ashes left.

    It occurred in mere seconds.

    The fighting had stopped. Every eye was fixed on one spot.

    The rebels fled. The loyalists did not pursue. The ghastly annihilation was fresh in everyone’s mind. It was enough death for the day.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Apr 2003


    Duke Humbert sat hunched in the chair farthest from the tent entrance. His head was in his hands. A staff was reading the battle’s aftermath reports. There were not many casualties, except for the mounted units.

    More than a hundred knights and squires either were dead or injured, the duke’s two sons among them. His oldest had no less than seven arrow punctures; buried moments ago. The apprentice magi were tending the second son’s; with little expectations. His youngest insisted on joining the field to seek revenge, much to the duke’s dismay.

    Humbert picked up a bronze goblet from the table in front of him and gulped every drop of wine. ‘Tomorrow we will impale and roast them on fire.’ He said to anyone in general. ’We will burn them to death, exactly what that young mage did. But slowly, much more slowly.’ His eyes were glazed with desire for vengeance.

    ‘I would advice caution, Your Grace.’ Perceval cautioned.

    ‘You are a coward and incompetent. You accumulate failures! Dare you advise what to do?’

    Councilor Romain, present at the meeting merely for etiquettes, hurriedly said, ‘Captain General, what could you tell us regarding the Chateuthion’s forces?’

    The duke returned to his refilled goblet. Perceval took a deep breath and turned to look at Romain. ‘The Duke Leon’s main unit—‘

    ‘Marquess! That heathen demanded – demanded! – dukedom from His Majesty. That upstart, I knew he was up to something. His Majesty shouldn’t have blessed him with that title.’

    Perceval cleared his throat and continued. ‘The Chateuthion armies mostly were incapable militia spearmen, no different then ours. Our Royal Guards could deal with it easily. The principal threat came from the mercenaries. Remarkably, those hirelings were highly trained and much disciplined.’ He sighed. ‘They were as effective as the Royal Guards, if not more.’

    The duke exploded upon hearing the last parts. ‘The knights will squash them like pests that they are.’

    After a moment, the captain continued. ‘They have very remarkable bows. I didn’t know a weapon can kill that far.’

    Romain scratched his chin and looked far away. ‘Composite bows, made from wood, horn or bone, sinew and hide or fish glue. Gutteslundian use them. They can easily reach a thousand meters. At six hundred, the arrow can pierce hardest mail plates.’

    Perceval stared in horror. ‘That is impossible!’

    Romain bid the staffs away, walked to the tent entrance and closed the flaps. ‘Hmm? Yes. It is widely known in the north border, in Chateuthion Duchy.’

    ‘Duchy! That border province is a duchy now? The impertinence!’ Humbert was quite intoxicated and half-asleep. Perceval shortly glanced at the overweight cousin of the king, barely able to hide his disgust.

    Romain returned to his seat. ‘What had happened General?’

    Perceval’s mouth twisted into a bitter smile. ‘Simply captain will do councilor. His Grace demoted me if you recall.’ He shook his head and laid back. ‘The first encounter was disastrous. I did not anticipate their capabilities, especially the Gutteslundian mercenaries. As you already know, they outrange the Royal Guards crossbows. At first provocations, the knights charged, without my permission. I had no choice but to order general advance to support them. We were cut to pieces.’ The captain went to a wine pitcher to fill his goblet. ‘The magi cadre ameliorated our withdrawal. He raised the goblet in salute.

    Romain raised his. ‘I do not see any survivor from that first cadre, hmm?’

    Perceval took a deep breath. ‘They all did on said battle.’ He snorted. ‘If you can call that a battle. No, only the knights took the beatings. The infantry was not yet fully deployed. Many … ran away to other directions.’ He was about to say ‘deserted’.

    There was a momentary silence. Aristidea did not have any reliable fighting forces The Royal Guards regiment, the king’s own personal army, represented the only professional soldiers in the land. It was sufficiently trained and loyal but limited in number, because of the cost and remonstrations from nobles to any increase on its strength.

    ‘I took the Chaslone garrison with me. The morale was too low. We would not be able to hold the town. The plan was to hold in Mountadeau and launch counter-attacks after reinforcements.

    ‘Along the way, their cavalry attacked us every day and every night. I had no mounted units left. Again, your magi cadre was the only protection, and they did remarkably.’ Perceval drank his wine. He stopped after glancing at the Duke Humbert who was snoring, thoroughly drunk.

    ‘When we reached Mountadeau, I had less than two thousand militias and five hundred Royal Guards, all of them were wounded; and of course all twelve of your Universite magi.’

    ‘You managed to reach the hill fort? When was this?’ Romain was stunned. ‘It is impregnable but we found you—‘

    ‘—pursued and on the brink of annihilation?’ Perceval finished for him. ‘We passed its gate about ten or twelve days after the first battle. Duke Leon and the rest of his army arrived five days later.’ He cackled. ‘The fort -- the impregnable fort -- fell overnight.’ Seeing the bewildered look on Romain’s face, he quickly added, ‘No councilor, I don’t know how. I was patrolling the western wall when suddenly the enemy was among us. There was no other avenue, I had to save my men, and we retreated yet again. The next day, today, you found us.’

    Romain reached for his goblet, it had not been touched during the entire meeting, and stop in mid way. ‘The cadre? The magi?’

    Perceval did not immediately answer. He looked at his own drink and finished it. ‘Of them, I saw no signs.’

    There was a momentary silence. Killing twelve magi in a single night without raising any alarm was unheard of, even if they were all apprentice. And every cadre was led by a full mage. The alternative explanations were that they all deserted or, even worse, went to the enemy. To neutralize the full cadre required extraordinary proficiencies.

    ‘Did they have their own magic wielders, powerful ones?’

    Perceval answered carefully. ‘I had not notice any indications to that effect. However, I am not knowledgeable in sorcery subjects. It may have evaded my observation.’

    Romain returned to his thought and the uneasy silence returned.

    ‘That young apprentice of yours -- what’s his name – is very remarkable. How is he?’

    The elderly man stirred from his contemplation. ‘Hmm? Oh, yes. Etienne, the son of--’ He managed to halt himself before blurting the name, and coughed trying to hide the abrupt discontinuation. ‘He should not have cast that spell at least not with that much power focused. Almost killed him; too much energy inside a frail human body.’

    Romain stood up from the chair. ‘I better look at him now.’

    The captain asked when the councilor was almost outside the command tent. ‘Will he recuperate?’

    Councilor Romain stood still. ‘Hopefully. I saw that boy grew up.’ He shook his head. ‘Hopefully.’ With that, he walked into the dark night beyond.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Apr 2003


    It was cool and comforting, and silent. No, not totally silent. Faint noises caressed the ears; sounds muted by something. Someone was whistling, or chirping. It was not loud, simply enough to stir awareness.

    He opened his eyes. It was bright. He blinked for a moment to adjust the eyes. He was in a bed inside of a room. Where was it? Who was he? A name flitted through his mind. Etienne. He remembered now.

    Etienne pushed the blanket down and sat up. The place was familiar. Light streamed into the room from a window on one wall. There were an old oak table books and a bookcase. Two candles were put on a small stool near the bed. He rose and walked to the niche.

    Outside was a garden, tended by the slaves. If he reached his hand, he could almost touch some the yellow leaves of a maple tree to the right. Birds were singing. Two birds, colorful amazons, were perching on a branch of the tree.

    ‘Home. I am home.’ He smiled. ‘This is my family manor.’

    Etienne strolled to the table. He pulled out the loose board underneath, his secret storage. A book lay inside. The cover illustrated a man with fiery eyes holding a staff with a crystal ball head in right hand and lightning ball in the left. He smiled and read the title, ‘The Adventure of the Red Sorcerer’. It was his childhood favorite storybook, bought from a peddler without the knowing of his father.

    The door opened. Etienne immediately closed the board and stood straight. A middle-aged man and woman entered. His father had a fierce face; he looked at Etienne up and down. ‘So. Have you realized your mistakes and are repentant?’ His mother was grieved.

    ‘Well, have you?’ His father bellowed. ‘I see that you haven’t. You persist with that outrageous and despicable attitude!’

    His mother with graying hair pleaded. ‘Please Etienne.’ Tears streaked down from her eyes.

    His father walked to Etienne and grabbed his hand. The dark haired man dragged him out of the room, down the stairs, and out to the courtyard. A carriage was waiting ready. Two robe-chests were being loaded by slaves. ‘You want to study that wicked power? You will! I’ve had enough with you.’

    His mother wailed. ‘Nooo, where are taking him? Please no. He’s only a child.’ She hugged him protectively.

    His father separated them and pulled her away. ‘Take him to the Universite!’ He said the place with loathing.

    ‘Yes my lord.’ A family retainer pushed Etienne gently but firmly toward the coach.

    Etienne turned his head and looked at his mother over his head. ‘Motherrr.’ He found himself crying. He turned around to run to her.

    The retainer held him and pulled him along. He stretched his hands out. His mother was howling and weeping, trying hard to grasp his hands. His father gripped her tightly and drew her into the house. Etienne was shoved into the carriage. The door slammed close.

    He pounded on the door. ‘Let me out! Release me! Motherrr!’

    Suddenly the door opened, and he plunged forward. Grass and dirt entered his mouth. He stood up and ran to his mother. But she was not there, nor the house. All around was empty grassland plain.

    Before he could recognize the place, he heard shouting and clamors of metals from behind. Etienne turned around. He saw a group of horsemen. The ground shook with each thump of hooves striking the ground. The beasts stampeded, salivating at the nozzles, spurred by their riders. Deep dark clothes concealed the mounted men. He could not see their faces. Although it was yet a bright sunny day, a shadow hand seemed to shroud that particular part of the land. Intense feeling of hatred emanated from them. He was surprised by this, until fear rose to contest for dominance in his mind.

    The urge to run and dash away was great. He knew however that it would not avail him. His legs could not carry him somewhere safe swift enough to outrun them. With teeth gritted and hearts thudding loudly, he grasped the eternal energy. The power pulsated out there, as always, waiting for someone to draw on. The energy went through him, into his body, flowing in every portion of his being.

    The men and animals ever approached. The riders took out curved bows and arrows, and pointed at him. Etienne raised both hands, released the build-ups, and collapsed, dreadfully exhausted. Fire leaped out from his palms. It speeded out in the direction of the group. The flames wrapped them up completely and exploded. Etienne covered his eyes with his hand from the intense blaze.

    Squinting he peeked from between the fingers. Amidst the uproar, he could hear them. The sound was not of screams. He heard them laughing. The inferno was consuming the skins, and yet they advanced.

    ‘Impossible! You’re supposed to die!’

    He attempted another spell. The body was complaining under the considerable exertion. Bones rattled, the joints shook; he could feel the arteries pulsated, his head pounded mercilessly. Yet he strained, for was it not the only possibility for survival? Another ball of fire flew to the oncoming enemies. He lay down on the ground, unable to move, and watched them sideway.

    Again, the blaze engulfed the men and the beasts. Again, they laughed. The fire was burning and searing the skins, bones were exposed. In spite of everything they were coming. The red banners were perceptible now. He had seen those before. Their faces were looming closer, eyes blazing like fires, mouths dark and deep like a bottomless well. They were whispering his name, and his family name.

    The arrows were nocked. The bowstrings were pulled ever so slowly. All aimed at him. Loosed. The lethal missiles flew fast and true. Reflectively, Etienne put both hands in front as a shield. He screamed, expecting the imminent end to his living. Dozens of iron heads pierced his flesh.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Apr 2003


    [size=4]Chapter 5[/size]

    Two days after the fall of Mountadeau, the second Werther expeditionary battalion arrived. In a hilly green landscape, it was a long slithering snake among the rising and falling terrain. Grim faced men and women with lightweight armor of padded leather with silk coverings underneath. Proud red standards of sword, arrow and spear were waving in the soft breeze. The ‘blood banner’ as it was known by now among the Chateuthion forces. Many loathed their fighting style, preferring long-ranged weaponry to personal close combat clash, yet all was wary of incurring their wrath. The blood regiment was avoided by the militia foot soldiers, envied by the mercenaries, respected by tribal warriors, and idolized by young romantic volunteers. Many youth sought enlistment in the hope of making a name; each one was rejected.

    The thousand soldier strong foreign reinforcement was slowly entering the gate of the recently conquered bastion. Among them was a squad of mounted archer company. Young by the Aritidean standard yet aged by the constant war among Gutteslund clans, and the hardships war always brought.

    ‘Impressive.’ A female soldier was looking upward to the hill fort ahead.

    Beside her a youth with twin scars -- one was deeper -- crossing his face took a swig from his waterskin. He squinted and scrutinized the fort on at the side of the steep hill. ‘Lora, it fell in one day. Overnight, if what they say is true.’

    She sighed. ‘I know, Even. That’s what I was referring to.’ Lora replied.

    ‘I heard the border duke employ magi.’ A girl to Lora’s right offered. Her lips were thin and slanted upward at the ends, creating the impression of a constant smile, even when she did not.

    A dark skinned and bald man behind them spat. ‘A good for nothing bunch! Manipulating power they don’t understand.’

    The scarred lad grinned and winked at the girl. ‘They took the fort in one night, Klaas. It was good by any measure.’

    Klaas shot him an intense glare. ‘Mage cares only of himself. Give me a catapult any day and I’ll show you what good is. Mark my word, magi will be our undoing.’ He spat again.

    Even was grinning wider. ‘There’s a forest we just passed yesterday. Cut yourself a good timber and make a siege then.’

    ‘Enough you two, Even, Smiley!’ Lora shook her head. Goading Klaas with his hatred for anything about magic was a fair sport in the squad. Things could rapidly escalate, however, as had happened several times.

    ‘Aristidean military is pathetic.’ Smiley loudly voiced her opinion, drawing glances from several local people. ‘I say we can conquer this country in weeks.’

    ‘That’s a dangerous assertion Smiley. We don’t want them think we have that notion.’ Another young man to Klaas’ side said. ‘We are here to help Duke Leon recover the Aritidean throne, as he is rightfully entitled.’

    ‘It speaks!’ Smiley looked over her shoulder with an almost genuine incredulousness painted on her face, betrayed by the constant smiling look. ‘Oh, it’s you Hubert. With you being silent and all, I’d thought it was a voice of the wind.’

    Even chuckled. ‘A voice of the wind.’ He laughed.

    Smiley nudged her horse to close on him. ‘Funny, eh?’ She raised her brows and said kindly with a smile but the eyes were staring at him with sharp look.

    Even coughed. ‘I just never thought you had it in you. Poetic I mean.’ He looked at her and cleared his throat. ‘It’s beautiful.’

    Lora snapped. ‘Quit yapping. We’re here kids.’

    They had been under the cover of the fort shadow. Its high gates loomed near now. Some of the mixed guards at the entrance looked intently with different expressions. The dissimilarly uniformed mercenaries with hard antipathy; the poorly clothed peasants volunteer with beaming eyes; and the slave militia with distrusts. The squad entered.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Azalae's Avatar
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    Apr 2003


    Carts were rolling, bearing rigid and unmoving remains of several days past battle. The bodies were lugged carelessly on; all had been stripped clean of any belongings. Boots, armors, shirts, helmets, all gone. Children, locals and those of the mobs moving with armies, were scrambling at them searching for any remains left by the first scavengers. The overseers chased them off, lashing whips and throwing handful of rocks at them. The young searchers ran away to come back again when the grumpy men did not pay close attention.

    Hubert was looking at one of such group impassively. He did not feel pity for those kids. He was amused. They always returned and fought for small scraps found. Sometimes the lashes found flesh, immediately followed by pitiful screams. They were too small and weak, so skinny the bones were barely covered by the skin. Offspring of not so much better conditioned parents. The unwilling witness of war, the ones who bear the full burden of destruction, victims each one and all.

    The squad stopped. The sergeant was talking to a soldier, asking and being informed of where they would sleep in this fort. After passing through the barbican, they had been greeted by a massive central yard. It branched out by sizeable walkways to the west, south and east sides. Bodies were piled in the middle of the courtyard, to be carried on carts. People were busy repairing sections of walls and outbuildings.

    Hubert turned his gaze to another part. The militia soldiers were drilling, the army of the northern duke. Sergeants bellowed and kicked everywhere, punishing wrong movements or not uniformed motions; which was what most of militia did. The officers again and again demonstrated the maneuvers for them to follow. The mass seemed to refuse doing anything right. The so-called soldiers were totally undisciplined and under-trained. If there would be a season truce for further training, they still would be unprepared to hurt anyone. Well, maybe themselves. Hubert sighed.

    If the duke did not enjoy military aid from Werther, would he dare challenge the ruling sovereign? The man did not command any formidable fighting force. And Aristidean nobility did not entertain favorable view regarding magic users, the feud ran deep between them. The wizards had controlled the kingdom for centuries, reigning over the monarchs, until the cataclysm. Therefore, how could he manage to overthrow the king? Using what?

    They resumed moving, walked into the right buildings. His squad had been assigned to the western barrack. Lora told them to dismount before an overhead arch. The place was dirty and smelled. He heard his friends complaining and cursing whoever should have keep the place clean proper. Others were staying there too, mostly mercenaries and a few militia members. A few were throwing out used and filthy straws bringing in ties of new bundles.

    Why did Prince Hildebrand support that upstart Aristidean marquess? No, not a marquess, he had styled himself a duke now. Was it for monetary reward? Surely, the prince did not believe that duke would carry out his end of the treaty. Or was it the consent to rule the Gutteslund? When Duke Leon seat at the throne, he would permit and support Hildebrand to conquer the entire Gutteslund kingdom and reign as its king. No that did not feel right. A unified Gutteslund would be a too big a threat to Aristidea. They would try to keep it divided and each factions battling each other.

    A moment of debate ensued regarding who would claim the better part of the room. One side had small arrows slit that let fresh air in. It threatened to turn ugly, neither the mercenaries nor his squad was willing to sleep at secluded and dark part.

    Aristidea was powerful because of its magi and wizards; the military was weak because that hand was never needed. Magic was strong enough to defend the country and conquer others if needed. Now that they had lost their most talented magic wielders, it had become a rich country unable to protect itself, ripe to be conquered. Smiley was right, Gutteslund warriors, strengthen by decades of constant war could, could defeat it. Werther was the only faction that bordered this country and could easily expand south. Why did the Werther prince not so?

    Another squad, Werthers, entered the room. A brief explained quickly decide whose side they were on. The mercenaries removed their gears into the darker portion of the room. Hubert volunteered seeing their horses stabled, which was happily taken by the others. After listening of the direction from Lora, he went out and led the mounts to their shelter.

    I am missing something. It was not like the prince to be of assistance out of kind heart. Maybe that was the reason I was sent here.

    There was no one at the stable so he proceeded to take the harnesses off the animals. While he was allocating some grains and baileys, he heard someone talking behind him.

    ‘We requested a full complement of an assault cluster, and they sent you, alone.’ The voice quickly added when Hubert was about to turn around. ‘No, do not turn around. Continue what you are doing. Look busy!’

    ‘Are you the node captain here?’ Hubert asked.

    ‘The captain died yesterday. Everyone died, except me. Or vanished. The whole node.’

    Hubert felt a prickling sensation on the back of his skin. The feeling rose whenever he was being scrutinized. He hated that. ‘Message has been sent about my arrival here. You do not believe that I am a—‘.
    ‘Care of what others might hear!’ The man admonished.

    ‘That I am a loyal servant of the prince?’ Hubert altered what he was about to say. He dropped the last sack of grain and slowly turned. ‘I am going to turn around.’

    The owner of the voice was a grizzled old man. The smell of horses, manure and other even less appealing exuded from him. He slowly dropped his hands that were covered under a dirty coarse coat, slivers of straws and grains scattered on top. Hubert knew he was holding some weapons. He would be a fool otherwise.

    ‘You must be real good. I do not like to think that my companions were sacrificed for nothing.’ He watched Hubert sideway. The eyes were covered with dark red blood vessels. ‘Are you?’

    ‘They sent me here, did they not?’

    After a moment of silence and further staring, the old man opened his mouth. ‘They call me stabler.’ He walked to the darker part of the stable where grains were stacked high and motioned Hubert to follow. ‘Three weeks ago, we lost an operative. A stab wound in the back. A broken sword with Chateuthion sigil was found nearby, hidden among the bushes.’

    Hubert raised his eyebrows. A soldier killing an operative was impossible. Even the most trained duke’s own bodyguard would find the task difficult.

    Stabler knew what he was thinking. ‘Unless the duke has his own … agents, that we know nothing of. That is hard to believe.’ He smirked but returned to be serious when he continued. ‘An operative was sent to investigate, a good friend of mine. We did not hear from her again. A week later, no less than three of us went out to find what happened to her, and to gather information of the murder. Only one returned, badly injured. She barely had said “the revivalists” before her life extinguished.’

    ‘”The revivalists?” Never heard of them.’ Hubert said.

    ‘Neither have we. The captain immediately informed Werther and asked for more clusters.’ He looked out far away to the east. ‘The night when we took this fort, every operative from the node here died, even those not directly involved with the offensive. This last two days I found out that all of our informants and sleepers had been liquidated.’

    ‘How did you survive?’

    ‘I don’t know.’ He grinned exposing yellowed teeth and releasing awful breath. ‘Maybe they didn’t find me.’

    ‘Maybe they did find out about you. Maybe they had even intercepted your captain’s message. Maybe they wanted you to lead them to the new operatives sent from Werther.’

    Stabler did not seem surprised. ‘Good thing Werther sent only one, you. No big lost then.’

    ‘Yeah, funny how things turn out, isn’t it.’ Hubert smiled. He slowly eased out the small daggers hidden at his wrists. ‘Maybe … you are one of them.’

    Suddenly he leapt out. Left hand reached out to grab Stabler’s neck. A dagger was in his right hand.

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