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Toman Vaderne of the Covenant of Magi was weary as they crept along in the half light of the Tasseran forest, one of the many on the border between Golieh and Tassera in the hills. Their journey seemed to be taking them forever. Master Dyran, Brother Solmon, Sister Melain and he had set out from the city of Coranda, Golieh’s capital, nearly two weeks ago, they should have been into Tassera by now, if not to the city to report on their journey. The road had seemed to take more twists and turns and they had found themselves lost on two occasions, having to back track an entire day in one instance. Then Solmon’s horse had fallen and broken its leg, requiring a lengthy healing spell to fix the creature’s limb and then it had required time to recuperate for the use of so much magic on its body. Time was against them and it appeared the road was too. After their luck he wouldn’t be surprised if they wound up staring at the gates of Ishae by morning, or perhaps Rumei, maybe even on the Jarasoni border. He was frustrated with the lack of progress. For years they had been doing nothing but making progress in Golieh, and now when the Grand Master of the Covenant called them back to the capital they couldn’t even find their way along a simple road. They had also passed precious little sign of civilization, the odd hamlet here, a few people heading the opposite direction there, but other than that none of the major towns or villages they had been expecting. The strangest man though, he had nothing but a walking stick and a baggy robe, but no sign of any of the faiths. He looked simply common for the area though, dirty blonde or brown with blue eyes and a bit of height to him. He had simply bid them travel along the coast for the forests and hills could be quite tricky to navigate. Dyran had simply told him they had a good map and bid him farewell. Disconcertingly though he had simply stared at them as they went down the road, then was gone. It gave Toman an uneasy feeling.
“Master Dyran,” Solmon spoke up after the seemingly endless silence of the day. “Perhaps we should find a place to make camp for the night. It is getting dark.” He was the youngest man present at fifty some winters, but he did not look a year past his twenty-fifth. That was the result of prolonged magic use, aging was set back and the lifespan increased. Those born with a strong knack for the ability to use magic through sheer will instead of spell were rare, and lived much longer as a result. He was a Kourellian, shorter than most with green eyes and brown hair common to that kingdom, but had a rather annoying tendency to state the obvious. That was truly one of the only darker spots on their time in Golieh, Solmon’s need to constantly update him on what he already knew. His round face showed signs of concern however, it was late and Dyran was pushing them longer than normal. He was possessed by the need to get to Kourell.
“A bit more distance between us and this forest Solmon and we will make camp.” Spoke Dyran, not even looking back from his grey stallion. His long hair hung in a tail and his staff sat at his side in the saddle, swaying with the horse. Toman imagined his age worn face, like beaten leather and of matching color really, creased with concern. Master Dyran was senior among them by two centuries; he was nearly three hundred years old, and had been integral into rebuilding Kourell as a power in the Midlands, despite not even being from here but south in Iano, the land of the Rumeins. Even the travel worn cloak and robes of grey and blue he wore seemed regal as he rode on undaunted by how lost they were, at least his outward appearance showed calm. How else was one of his rank supposed to act if not calm, thought Toman, if he began to show worry then the rest of the party would lose heart. Such was the way of the world.
“Perhaps we should make camp at the first suitable place Master Dyran. We should not be travelling this late at dusk.” Melain remarked from behind Toman on her own chestnut mare. She was the second youngest of the group and from Dallor, with the bronze skin and dark hair of that region, held back in a tight braid she had kept all her eighty six years, though again she still did not look a day past thirty winters at best. Her riding dress had seen better days of course, all their clothes had. Nonstop and with no clear direction was driving them mad.
“We must press on as long as we can.” Dyran said in a firm voice. He clearly was having none of this stopping business.
“Master, we should truly stop for the night. We will get nothing but even more exhausted if we do not stop for shelter soon.” Toman finally spoke up. “In the morning we will consolidate again and check where we are on the road.” He said in as clear a voice as he could, but always his Goliehn accent showed through. Eighty one years and he could not lose what he was born with. That still made him grimace sometime. While in Coranda it had not been a problem, everyone spoke the same language of Istokazi (or southern Aemali as some called it, but most called it what the locals always had) where as Melain had only the slightest hint of Severkazi (or northern Aemali and Severnac as they called it, but Goliehns preferred that name) in her tongue. Dyran had no accent what so ever despite growing up speaking Ianic, the language of that area.
“Yes Master, I believe Toman speaks the right of it. We have been travelling hard all day and we need to figure out how close the next town or village is. Our supplies run low.” It was true, of the two pack horses Solmon held, only one was even close to heavily laden at the moment. With their words Dyran stopped, and hung his head, a sign that he had relented. He must have been weary to stop so quickly, normally it would have taken much longer.
“Very well,” He said in a voice approaching heavy. “the next spot of suitable size and protection, we will make camp for the night.” They rode for what was roughly another hour before the woods gave them such a place, and its timing could not have been better, the sun was getting low and all that truly lit the way was a ghostly ball of light Master Dyran had summoned upon the end of his intricately carved staff.
They began setting up camp and seeing to the horses, a practiced, almost perfected, affair after two weeks of travel. Solmon set about tying the horses to a tree, Toman set to making a fire with what little wood he could scrounge, Melain gathered their meager rations for supper, and Daryn began sweeping the ground with spells of air to make a suitable sleeping space. It was time consuming work and by the time they had camp set, the horses fed and food near ready the two moons had come up, like white and green claws in the sky they drifted and the small amount of clouds there were slipped silently across their faces. They happily were digging into a meager dinner of tea and stew. They would need new rations soon, and the closest settlement was apparently no more than half a day’s ride from here. Things finally seemed better, so much so no one even muttered of saddle sores anymore.
“Master, excuse me for being presumptuous in asking, but why exactly does the King of Kourell need a new advisor? Wouldn’t the old kings be just as suitable for the position?” Solmon asked hesitantly. They had all been dying to know why they were called back after nine years of service in Golieh but respect for their elder and their orders had kept them from asking for these past two weeks. Now Solmon must have been feeling brave, or at least it had been burning in him for some time. Dyran only smiled slyly in the firelight.
“Our Grand Master of the Covenant has deemed it necessary that I give council to the new king of Kourell. He feels I can best guide him in his duties in our tumultuous world. We may have pacified Golieh, but Jarason is still wild and fierce like the bear it draws its sigil of. They are the greatest threat to our young King, and great things are expected of him. Grand Master Talcer believes he can bring the old glories of Kourell.” They all sat stunned for a moment, Solmon most of all as he spat out tea, whilst he and Melain stopped with food half way to their mouths looking like fools. None of them had ever met this boy, or man as he now was, but they were expected to believe that he was to be a great king. Most shocking was that THEY were expected to make him that king. It was an honor beyond words, not only to aid a king to greatness, but to rebuild the most powerful kingdom in the Eastlands. Such a thing was an honor many Magi would never achieve in a life time of service, or dying to attempt to. The task they were being given was to rebuild a nation and a world by association through that nation. It was a task that would give them and their order more power than any sovereign, more power than the order had held since the Old Kingdom.
“This is an honor!” Melain said with a gasp and hand to heart. Dyran smiled again.
“Yes we are being asked to hold position and power that no Magi of our status has been asked to, or indeed been in the position too, for centuries. Our work has not gone unnoticed in Old Sanctuary.” At this Toman smiled and leapt to the saddle bags. He drew out a flask of wine and felt elated.
“A toast my friends! To the King and the Grand Master and the glory of the New Kingdom!” He proclaimed and took a deep swig of wine, followed by his companions. Even Dyran drank some deeply. They traded good cheer for a while longer and then Toman took up the first watch, as always. He enjoyed the night. It was quiet and easy to be at peace with, and what fool would rob Magi once they realised who they were.
These forests were all the same here. The woods of the highlands, of maple and pine smelling of spring, were what they were coming from and now down into the fertile lowlands of Tassera where the woods were greener of elm, oak and yew with wild flowers and bushes of berries in every free copse of land. Granted, he would say he felt this wood was far thicker than any he had been in the lowlands. He had grown up amongst the strangling thick trees of the Golieh highlands, where wolves and bandits prowled, these woods should feel almost free and airy since there hadn’t been a war in years, banditry would be at a low and all the dangerous creatures would be much deeper in, away from humans. But could trolls or other fell beasts be here, he wondered with a twinge of fear, but he quickly dismissed the thought. They too would be in the highlands or far from a border where man did not often tread. Surely he merely felt tired from the long journey and stress of the road, which was what gave rise to this oppressive feeling. There was nothing in the night, at least here, that was not there in the day. Even to Magi, stress did funny things after such long periods of time. When one used their Talent or even drew spells far too long, magic would begin to take your strength and your wits, and they had been relying far too much on such things in the past week to see them through their journey. He dismissed it as simply that for the longest time as the moons moved over the sky, and then he felt something through the wards they had placed.
He immediately took hold of his Talent and used his heightened senses to look into the woods all around him. There was something moving out there, but it was as if it evaded him every time he tried to pinpoint the source of it. Toman was unsure if it was just one thing or multiple, but it was bigger than what he had been feeling, the odd creature of the night or owl hunting for field mice. Perhaps a deer, but a deer would not evade him like this, it did not have the power to do such a thing. Truly he could think of nothing that could do this but another Magi masking themselves to his own probes, but such a thing was unlikely. The odd hedge spell caster could never grow that powerful, the contracts they signed at the Covenants chapter houses prevented them from doing such a thing by means of magical bond. The only other group powerful enough to oppose them and bring some kind of threat to them was the Maesters of Jarason. Such a thing was equally unlikely since they were all the way north in that kingdom, hundreds of miles from here, and how would they have missed a party of Maesters following them? It would have been reported or sensed days ago, if not when they left Coranda. What was this fell thing that stalked the night? He decided to rouse his companions immediately, but then it struck and revealed itself with alarming speed, and “it” was not alone.
A trio trolls burst from the trees and attacked with a ferocious roar. One raised a club and crushed Solmon’s horse with one swing. So much for healing the animal, Toman thought bitterly. The second troll was torn apart by a bolt of lightning thrown from a suddenly awake and very alert Dyran. Toman himself drew his sword and threw a fireball the size of his head into the face of the troll that attacked him and slashed into its belly, protected by crude looking iron armor on its massive bulk. Trolls were ugly creatures, massive bodies at 8 feet tall, able to tear a man apart with their bare hands. Round heads with slits for noses and mouths and three fingered hands and feet with hides like leather and eyes like augers, they were the fears of every isolated village. That fear was now trying to murder him, its brutish features swinging a massive knife, practically a bastard sword on a man, at him and it was taking all the skill he possessed as a swordsman not to die. The first troll was dead, killed by Dyran, and was engaging him and Melain, but the creatures were no longer alone.
Before his eyes, two circles or what appeared to be fire opened and a group of armed men hoped out, all armed and armored with spears and swords to join the fray. He did not even have time to think of what was happening as his sword found the troll’s throat and turned to see who this new group was. One was felled quickly by a lightning bolt thrown by Solmon, but another skewered him on the end of his spear, whilst a second ran him through on his sword. In the flickering light of flame and steel he realised these were not men as he would know them. The warriors stood at least 7 feet tall, had faces obscured by masks in the shape of a horned skull, armor as black as the night around them with cruel spikes upon the shoulders and blades tinged with red and black. In the flickering light his heart sank as he realised what he saw. Daemeni, the creatures of nightmare and legend made millennia ago to fight demon’s wars, and they were here to kill them. Dyran swung his sword at one as he burned the last troll to cinders as flames shot like dragons fire from his staff and his long sword took one of the demon men in the throat. Then two closed upon him and he was quickly lost to sight and the rest came to him and Melain, her hair flying free as she parried with staff and sword.
The pair that accosted him moved as if they were perfectly attuned to each warrior’s every move, slashing and blocking with a deadly grace and precision like Dalloran dancers in a show. Toman was truly fighting for his life as one of their swords came so close it took one of the braids in his beard off. He parried and struck furiously with every form he knew, but they matched him stroke for stroke and dodge for dodge. Bear Strikes met Crouching Lion met Striking Viper followed by Wind in the High Grass. It was like fighting twin Sword Masters, but he had beaten Sword Masters before, and he was determined to win this fight, he would not die here, not tonight he kept telling himself. Suddenly a spear passed through the pair’s heads and in unison they dodged it as he ducked and struck for their legs, only to be blocked with the same eerie unison by two swords. Standing he saw the spear wielding warrior ready himself for another strike, so Toman moved for all he was worth. As the first warrior blocked his staff attack, he feinted for the second to make him strike at his exposed neck. The blade swung true, and into his trap. Bringing his staff about to block it with lightning reflex he knocked the warrior’s arm away and swung his body to the left to avoid the first warriors strike. Striking the second warrior’s now exposed midriff with his sword produced a grunt as he flinched, then he took the warrior from behind as a human shield and ducked to his right with his captive in confused tow. The first warrior hesitated briefly, but then swung his sword aiming for Tamor’s neck. He twisted his captive ever so slightly so that the warrior’s sword took him through the jugular. The spear wielder had positioned himself to strike, but in the flash of movement found his spear through his companions back instead of Tamor’s belly. He dropped his captive, kicked the warrior on the spear deeper into his impalement, and decapitated the Daemeni with the spear.
Jumping over his victories he felt a surge of triumph, which slumped into complete defeat as he felt the next spear go through his back and out his belly in a surge of white hot pain that blinded him. He crumpled to his knees as the tip of the spear dug into the earth, pinning him there, and he looked around to see that his companion too, was being dealt defeat. Melain was bleeding horribly, but two warriors lay dead at her feet, while a third lost an arm, but another came up like a striking serpent and ripped open her belly with a furious slash. She screamed and fell and he finished her by driving his sword through her heart. It stood, and burst into flame as Dyran shot a fireball deftly behind him as he relieved an opponent of his head. He was wounded, but nothing but a few knicks and cuts, though many bled through his robes. At the man’s feet three lay slain, but three more laid into him, but he felled another with a strike of his staff to its throat simultaneously knocking another into the brush with a spell from his sword, and the last died with a sword in its gut. Daryn stood and looked shocked into Toman’s eyes at his sad state, all Toman could even mutter was a groan, but then a black lance jutted from Dyran’s shoulder and he stumbled, and a second appeared from his other as he too slumped to his knees. Toman felt a fierce kick take him in the back as he was knocked on his side, facing the world and Dyran sideways. From behind him came five more of the damned things, one holding what appeared to be a bow of nothing but black energy. Four of the warriors flanked him, circling Dyran and fencing him in. The leader, a horrible figure with skin black as night, eyes red as blood and hair like snow in the mountains, spoke in a voice deep and hollow but filled with malice.
“I am impressed spell caster. You and yours managed to kill fifteen of the finest Daemeni warriors the Death Lords could muster, and three trolls in a few minutes of combat. Your reputation as warriors was not exaggerated.” He looked at Dyran with an emotionless face, and his warriors stood at the ready, swords in hand to strike him.
“What do you want with me you creature. Surely you did not come from your hell simply to admire my skills with the blade.” Dyran said through ragged breaths. That elicited a dark chuckle from the being.
“No spell caster, I did not, and while your skills were impressive in a manner I have not seen in centuries, I came here to see you dead.” With that, he unceremoniously drew his sword and loped off Dyran’s head. One of the greatest Magi to ever live and he was killed like a common Apostate when they were put on the headsman’s block in the Old Sanctuary. Toman felt as if he could not register the scene, such a thing was absurd, impossible. He willed himself to awaken, but he did not, and pain washed over him as he felt the spear move under his weight as he attempted to right himself. One of the warriors looked in his direction.
“Commander, one is still alive.” It said from behind his skull mask, red eyes falling on him dead as he was to be. The commander of them turned and regarded him like one would something caught in a trap.
“So he is. Strong that one, he killed three of ours and a troll singlehandedly. Show him a quick death.” With that, one of the warriors strode over to him, raised his sword, and swung. Then the heavens called him home.
Some great world building and some great action! Stay tuned for part three readers and remember to support an upcoming authors work!