Whats been up with me?

So, as many of you will have noticed, I’ve been very quiet. I feel I should justify it and explain, but I won’t. Simply put, life happens.

But, what I did want to do is share with you is one of the stories I found while procrastinating on finals revision.

Book

It’s not my usual genre at all. Zombies. But for one, its massive, for its price. Many of us get through a lot of books, it’s why we end up drawn to web-fiction in the first place. For another, its well written, and decent.

Like I said above, zombies are not my thing. The characters are stupid, they do all the things you constant want to scream at them for. But not in this one.

If this catches your fancy, then check it out.

When time is a bit more on my side, I will write a solid review.

Hope everyone is doing well.

P. Tempest

(Don’t ask about MageWar, please)

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LitRPG again

I dont have much for you this time, but some of you were rather pleased with Continue Online, others might have missed it.

Well, it turns out that FrustratedEgo, the author of Continue, has turned the first book into an eBook.

Its been rewritten, and edited even more, which has turned an already clean serial into a professional book.

I’m not going to gush, I did that in a different post. But what I am going to do is give you all the link and let you make up your own mind.

Continue Online (Book 1, Memories)

Necromancy

So, Ive been busy, with my beta readers on my new book.

Necromancy is a bit different to Magelife. Its short for one thing. 130 odd pages. But it is lean.

I hope that you guys enjoy reading it as much as I did writing is.

Necromancy is live now, so head on over and buy it, if it seems like it might be your thing. If its not, tell your friends and family, they might want to take a shot at it.

Magelife Epilogue

I hate horses, just to note, they smell. They are uncomfortable and disobedient. The one I had ridden on the long journey home did nothing but hurt me. My legs and arse ached in ways I just didn’t have words for. My companions weren’t very sympathetic despite the oath that bound us all. Soldiers are like that, it seems

Brendon had elected to stay in Nelar, for a time. I didn’t push him to come back with me. It wasn’t my place. The city had brought something out of him and while I was thankful for all he and Vesic had done for me, I wanted no part in what was going on with them.

I rode at the head of an army, my army. There were very effective at travelling but that isn’t the point of an army. I would have to wait to find out how they were at combat. Their magic was simple but I’d given a few lessons on the way to fill up the time.

I was nearly home.

The thought filled me with restless impatience and fear. What if I had done something wrong? What if Lyphia had found someone else? How had Sophia been without me? These thoughts tormented me over and over again. I alternated between excitement and dread. The journey was nearly over.

We broke camp this morning, not quite covering enough distance for me to spend last night in my own bed. But tonight I would be.

The early afternoon sun shone down, not hot but cool and bright on this autumn day. The wind blew; bring to me the crisp scent of damp earth. Light showers came and went. I didn’t care.

We had pulled up on a slight hill.

Telsan had assured me before we left, a few weeks ago, that Jase would be informed about the army so that no one panics at the sight of them.

Ten thousand men and women riding down on a town that held maybe five thousand citizens could only be here for invasion or raiding. Nope not this time but it was a reasonable fear.

I looked over the landscape; there was the forest with the lake that I had taken Sophia on her first lesson.

There was the farmstead, surrounded by fields that I had completed my first task.

There was the dark stonewall protecting my home.

There was the old foundry district, the smooth plaza I had turned it into glimmered in the sunlight.

There was the headquarters where I’d served and been exiled from.

There was the academy where I’d suffered to be taught just enough to get by and released into the world, also where I now lived with my apprentice and golem boy, the darker memories held no sway now.

There was the stone guild where Lyphia was probably toiling, unknowing that I was watching, waiting to ride down and wrap my arms around her.

This was my home.

I couldn’t wait any longer, be it good or bad, the nervous energy settled and pushed me to act.

I raised a hand in a signal to the army and spurred my horse, horrible thing, into motion.

Home, I was finally home, back to a Mage’s Life.

MageLife Chapter 45

I actually woke up pleasantly for a change. No people stood watching me. I was alone. It was nice, sort of. It did remind me that most of what I cared from was back home, far from here. But I would be going home soon. My task was almost done. I dressed slowly, feeling my muscles slide over each other, I’ve always loved that feeling when you first wake up and stretch yourself out. My stomach rumbled in protest at the lack of food it had received in the very busy last few days. Sadly, I couldn’t eat this early in the day. I felt slightly sick just thinking about it. Midday would be fine; I didn’t feel weak from hunger just yet.

I walked down the hall to the stairs adjusting my sword’s harness; it hung ever so slightly off balance that took a bit of settling.

I found Brendon seated in the chair at the end of the hall, not doing anything as far as I could see, he didn’t even notice me. His burning eyes were fixed on something beyond my sight.

I didn’t push it, he could be doing anything in the strange places in his head, sharing mind and body with a god has to do odd things to a man.

I carried on down to the main hall; I really needed to pick a name for it. I pushed that aside with a small mental shrug.

Orb and Telsan were discussing something, but both stopped when I reached the desk.

“Morning Tristan I trust you slept well?”

“I did, there was clearly nothing that needed my attention. Did you sleep well?”

“I didn’t sleep; there was too much that needed organising for our departure.”

“All the current needs are accounted for; I have been formulating plans for growth and development. The stone in this area is perfect for enchantment and warding. It is a valuable resource that we can transport between the duchies, depending on the infrastructure. My knowledge of current development plans throughout the duchies is incomplete; I will request an update once my connection is solid. It will be another mark or so.”

“Thank you Orb, do you have a designation yet? I feel uncomfortable just addressing you as Orb, I knew another and I would like you to have a name if possible.”

“I’m the Nelar Orb, any further designation will be granted by my master.”

“Alright, orb it is for now.”

“Telsan, what has been done in my absence?” I asked.

I was told in excruciating detail everything that had been done, with interjections and updates from orb where relevant.

The sun slanting through the windows crawled down the walls, shifting the few shadows. I found my gaze drawn again and again to the changing light marking the movement of time. It crawled by.

“My connection is firm, I can reach for the Westhaven orb now if you wish.”

“Please. I need to speak to Jase.”

“Give me a moment.”

The ball of light flickered through most of the colours of the rainbow before settling on a yellow that was nearly golden.

“Tristan are you there? I can’t see you.” Jase’s voice sounded worried.

“I’m here; Nelar is a part of the duchies now.”

Jase’s chuckle echoed through the room. “Of course you succeeded, never doubted you for an instant. Well in that case come home as soon as you can, I have two very concerned redheads and a stone boy waiting for you. Bring the others if you can.”

“We need to leave someone in charge here, this orb needs a master apparently.”

“That is correct master Jase.”

“Right you are, well Telsan do you want the job, raising to senior? I will confirm it with Velar but I doubt he will have any issues.”

“Jase, I don’t want the job but I will take it as a short term post. But only until someone more qualified can be sent.”

“Very well. That should be fine.”

“Jase, how can I come home? Rysan sent me here to die, it was an exile.”

“It was, but a funny thing happened while you were away. I had a word with a friend of mine, he checked out your story about Selac Freant, he had been abusing the people for a long time, and Rysan was in on it. Rysan is no longer in Westhaven; he has been recalled to Greenlaw to answer charges in front of the wizards. You are free to come home.”

I was speechless, grateful beyond words that Jase had risked his position and possibly his life to bring Rysan to justice. I finally found my voice.

“I will be home once my duty is done.”

“Good man. Is there anything you want passing to the girls and Airis?”

“Just tell them… tell them I love them and will be home soon.”

“I will. Telsan you are in command. Nelar Orb Mage Telsan is your master until he is relieved. Is that understood?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then farewell all. May the heart bless you.”

Jase’s voice faded away then, the connection severed.

I was going home.

MageLife Chapter 44

Standing in the centre of the Nelar Mage headquarters alone was a strange experience. The men had cleared out on my orders and I was seated, legs dangling, on the desk in the main hall’s reception. I still could never work out what to call this part of the building. But it wasn’t important right now.

In my hand was the Orb seed, its glassy structure bending the light in the room in very strange ways. It sent shapes and colours onto the walls that weren’t found anywhere in the room naturally.

The doors were barred and a couple of my mages were outside keeping all away.

This had the potential to go so very wrong. Most mage magic was just expressions of will using concepts as a sort of lever against something that was so vast it was beyond the mortal mind to comprehend. As you advance, you get taught lots of little ways to compartmentalise thoughts feelings ideas. But this thing in my hand was beyond all that.

It was a spell that covered so many parts of magic, so many concepts. It touched so much that it was more than many could handle. It could interact and change, grow and develop.

The Westhaven Orb was a golem in only the most superficial sense. In some ways close to what Airis could be, in others nowhere near.

Orbs could know anything with in their range, as they grow and get more complicated they get more powerful, more able to use that information.

They are normally one of the final things set up after the basics, so that they can give the senior, at his request, anything about the health of its area.

But in a city this large that had been without magic for so long, I feared what an orb could do. It could interact with the unnatural creatures, maybe some of the older, more primal magics that seeped into everything, that were everything. In tamed towns and cities, mages and knacks worked constantly building on what was there, cultivating, nurturing. It made them safer.

There was none of that here.

All this went round and round in my mind as I watched the light dance over the walls.

Sitting here alone watching the light show reminded me sharply of Sophia and Lyphia, the show we had seen and the players that I had promised patronage if they helped train my apprentice: The promise that I’d been unable to keep as I had been exiled from Westhaven, another responsibility to live up to.

And just like that, I made up my mind.

The desk I was sat on was solid oak. The whole thing was made from a single tree, the top was a slice clean through the trunk as if the tree was planted here, then cut and in many ways, it was. It was reshaped by magic, made for this very purpose, roots of wood spread throughout the floors and walls of this building. That was something I had figured out from my intense although brief study of the orb seed. The very enchantments that had been used here were standard for all headquarters for this very reason. Not exactly, secret knowledge but their other use was less well known. They meshed with an orb.

I stood, planting my feet on the smooth stone floor and then I laid the glass ball on the desk, in the centre of the rings, the very core of the once tree.

My hand brushed over the seed as I opened my link wide and plunged into the torrent of sigils that made up the construction of spell.

Blackness.

Vast emptiness greeted me.

I stood, my mind stood, in the void. My senses alert to anything as magic poured out of my body into the seed. I could feel it but I was removed, somewhere else. One by one stars appeared in the void with me, each with its own voice, calling out and filling the space with sound. Pure notes touched by emotion, ideas given form. They gradually illuminated the void; there was nothing to see except them, each trying to draw my attention. Soon there were thousands. They danced and swam all around me.

I reached my mind’s hand out to touch the nearest, complex ideas and diagrams, shapes. Few words were conveyed although solid meaning lodged in my head: An anchor. As I held it part of the material world slid into focus, the room around me this single star was the core all the other built upon, it went into the desk, the core of the tree, linking it to place, location.

The glass ball under my body’s hand sunk into the desk, the rings opening to accept it. Its progress was slow but fluid through the grain of the wood, living wood that grew, its roots spreading, pulling nutrients and giving influence, reach.

The next star to come to me was just as complex, its ideas, the foundation of body. Building on the anchor it gave the Orb a form, The same form as the one in Westhaven but younger, more fluid. It was a ball of light and air, joining the ideas of knowledge and intellect. On to the anchor sigil it went, growing link by link, they interwove tying one to the other.

The next was harder; it was almost pure knowledge, a skill set, but adaptive. A flexible shifting thing that defied any solid grasp, into the body it went, all building into something.

Time had very little meaning here, I had no idea how long I had been building the orb, its network. The last few remained, and I was tired. The wonder of creating something so… magical was draining out of me and exhaustion took its place.

Each star took power from me and through me, pulling on me as like a child demanding constant care and attention. A couple of times I had felt myself slip, and the links woven between stars had shifted fraying. Despite being nearly finished I couldn’t rest or let up or all my work would be undone and the power I had spent would need to go somewhere.

The final stars slowly, so slowly slid into place, I didn’t even look where they needed to go I just placed them where they told me. Their purpose clear to me now in this state of numb receptivity.

The last locked in and the void shattered, I fell back into myself.

I staggered on my feet, my legs long since dead, most of a day spent on my feet, unmoving, will do that to you.

Stretching them out brought pain and tingling heat shooting through the numbness that pervaded my body. Sweat, thick and oily sheathed my body, its cold slickness soaked into my clothes. A twitch in my hand brought my attention to the now sunken bead of glass that it rested on. I pulled it back and massaged blood back into it.

“You are Mage Representative Tristan Sodden,” a voice called into the empty hall.

My mind was too numb to make sense of anything right now, but the voice was clear and familiar.

“Orb, I did my task well then, if you are awake.”

“You did, Mage. I’m aware and alert. Not yet fully capable but that will come in time. Who is to be commander here?”

Oh

A small ball of light floated out of the sunken bead, its form almost identical to my Orb back home except much smaller, maybe half the size and its colour was closer to green than blue.

“Oh, there had been a question, hadn’t there?”

“That hasn’t been decided just yet. I will need to speak to my second and to Master Jase before such a decision can be made.”

“Understood.”

“How come you talk like this? The Westhaven orb has a personality.”

“My limitations are in place until such a time as I have a master.”

“Well that makes sense. I will get on that as soon as I can. Now if you will excuse me for a moment I need to open the doors and let my men in, it’s been a long day already and I expect they will want to rest.”

At my words, the doors swung open, the enchantments unlocking them. I turned to look between the doors and orb.

“You did that?”

“You wished it. Until such a time as I have a master, I’m to obey all lawful commands from a mage. You are in the command structure.”

“Thank you, although could you not do that until give clear commands please. It could be dangerous.”

“Of course.”

“Will you be alright by yourself for a few moments while I summon the men?”

“I will but I can call the men here, there are seven pendants in my range, although one is inactive and you are without one.”

“Oh. Do you mind if I sit? It’s been rather exhausting.”

“Sit Tristan Sodden, Mage Representative. I have knowledge of the process until such a time as I have a master. It must have been a drain on you.”

“It was. Thank you.” I stepped slowly around the desk, my legs still not happy with me for their abuse, to the chair and sat.

“The summons has gone out. They will be here soon.”

As I sat gazing at this baby orb, a slow and sluggish thought started to take shape.

“Can you scry?”

“Not as you imagine, but I can look upon remote locations and people. Depending on many factors.”

“You can use magic even though you are made of magic.” The statement fell from my lips without thought.

“We are not so different mage, as I was created, you were created in turn. Your bodies are shapes containing minds capable of thought and feeling, although my feelings are muted until I have a master, and magic. My body is made of light and air, yours earth and water, in the main, air for breath and fire for heat. Not so different really mage.”

“No not so different at all. I never thought we were really. I just wondered if you can scry can you let me look upon my apprentice.”

“I can but it will use up energy that I will need to continue the process you started. Already the roots quest out; enchantments to detect various things are being put in place. Once that is complete I will be fully capable of fulfilling your request.”

“I can wait; I don’t want to damage you.”

“The men have return Tristan.”

“Thank you.” I stood and walked around the room, waiting for the promised men to arrive.

Telsan was the first through the door followed by the other in a staggered procession; they all carried small glyph-screens and looked distracted.

Telsan looked from me to the newborn orb. “You did it then after you sent us away I wasn’t sure you would survive.”

“I survived,” I smiled tiredly. “It was hard work but I think my part of it is done now.”

“It is Tristan until a decision on my master is made I will draw my power through the roots. A mage’s energy is easier but I need the bond to make it work.”

“You aren’t like the Westhaven orb at all are you?”

“In fact I’m almost identical, that orb has been restricted by its master. I have connections forming that link me to all Orbs, we are all linked together, and soon I will be able to actively use that connection to communicate.”

“How soon?” Lysar said. He had stood next to the desk, and I hadn’t even noticed

“At this rate a turning of the earth.”

I looked over to Telsan a wild grin stretching my face.

All the men smiled back, being cut off from home was the worst nightmare of many of these men, which was over, almost.

“Good, I’m beat. I need to rest. Is there anything I need to know before I go to sleep?”

“It’s only early evening. The sun it’s even down yet, although it’s not far off,” Lysar said.

“I’ve channelled a lot of magic today. I’m done.”

“Get some rest, we can handle this. Now that we have an orb, we can get all this set up easily enough. It will take time but it’s not hard.”

“Okay, wake me if I’m needed.”

Telsan waved me off, not even bothering to comment.

I headed off to the stairs, my legs still not overly happy with me but only mildly complaining.

My room was empty, just a bed and a basin but that was all I needed right now. I stripped off my clothes my sword and scabbard then ran the water, it was cold, so just a quick wash to take the grimy oily residue off.

I grabbed the strap on my harness and pulled it with me over to my bed, I didn’t want it far from me, just in case. Laying down and staring at the celling didn’t work well for sleep but closing my eyes and focusing inwards, turning my thoughts to the concepts that I had learnt back when I was first at the academy did. The gentle reminders of home and how soon I could be there calmed me enough to rest.

I was borne away to the land of dreams, my head filled with peaceful visions of home.

Magelife Chapter 43

I stepped down from the stairs into the lobby. The doorway was no longer blocked by trolls, their sludgy remains coated the cobbled outside. They must have been hit by the falling fragments.

“Sir are you in there?” A male voice called from the street. It sounded familiar

I hurried through the doorway to be greeted by a very relieved looking mage. I had a collection of names floating around my head but I couldn’t match one to the face.

“You are alive sir, thank the heart. We worried that you might have run into more than you could handle. Commander Telsan sent me to find you once the battle was over.”

“Is anyone hurt?”

“We lost Jedas.” He stopped talking for a moment, the loss was very fresh, but he blinked and focused. “Everyone is fine, a bit scuffed up but all in all we came out of it with acceptable losses.” There was a bitter twist to the words, which I ignored. The man had a right to mourn the loss of his friend and teammate and I wasn’t going to take that away from him.

“And the invasion?”

“The monsters are gone. Mainly dead. They fell apart not that long ago. We have fortified the headquarters. We even had a few civilians join us. Not that many were hurt. It’s common to get monster attacks here. So they were prepared. They can fight, far better than we can honestly. They didn’t touch magic at all. They don’t talk all that much though.”

“Let’s get back to headquarters then, I need to see where we are at.”

We walked through the smoking streets, passing corpses and body parts, all monster parts.

“Can we get some people collecting the parts? I know the alchemists will want access to all of it.”

“Yes sir. Commander Telsan mentioned the same. An operation is being planned for in the morning. Everyone needs rest first and foremost.”

“Of course.” I walked next to the attentive mage, he was older than I was by a good decade but he didn’t seem to have lost his youthful attitude.

“Was it as bad as it looked?”

“Yes sir, it was. I’ve never seen the like. We fought hard to stand still. Niven is treating everyone he can. It was close. I don’t know what happened; the monsters just seemed to lose interest. The glowing bits in the sky fell like rain. They screamed. It was horrifying sir.”

“Well it’s over for now. Don’t worry too much about it. We need to get the city back into shape.”

“That may be easier than expected. The civilians are very talented, no men though. It seems to be a city of women.”

That made sense if what Lessor said was true, that all men served in the king’s guard. Why had we never heard of them though?

We stepped over rubble from the broken streets and around the surprisingly intact buildings. The smell of smoke filled the night air mixed with other less pleasant scents. A strange silence pressed down on us, smothering any desire for further conversation.

This section of the city had seen hard fighting. The walls of surrounding buildings were scarred and torn. I didn’t look with my other senses. I didn’t want to see what they could show me.

The headquarters wasn’t far away. I could see it. The platform I had raised was largely intact although a chunk had been crumpled at the front, forming a ramp.

Alice leant against the front of the platform, her bow strung but resting on her shoulder. A clay pipe sat between her lips, the sweet bluish smoke of burning tobacco wreathed her face. She nodded to me; a small smile twisted her lips as she removed the pipe.

“Mage boy, good to see you again. Your boys can put up a fight, but they were outnumbered so me and mine lent a hand. It is our home after all, can’t have the new guys showing us up. Just a few stragglers left, we can handle them. It’s good to know we aren’t alone anymore.”

“Anytime. It’s our job. You are ours now.”

“Nope. You are ours. That’s how it works isn’t it?”

I laughed. “Yeah pretty much. Thanks for the help.”

“It’s our home. It’s what we do. The guard will be home in the morning. They missed the fun but their recent contract is up.”

“We will need to get in touch with them.”

“Of course. I doubt you could keep them from your door. You have done us a service. I dread to think what would have happened if you hadn’t been here to keep the monsters off us.”

“Anyone dead?”

“Oddly enough, no. There were a few injuries and we have some people that haven’t shown up yet. But one of your men is setting up healing. We are good. You look done in. Check on your men. We will be in touch.” She put the pipe back between her lips and sauntered off into the night.

“Strange woman,” I commented.

“Yes sir. They showed up in the nick of time. Our position was breached, we had moments at best before being overwhelmed, then there they were.

I said nothing just made my way up the broken platform. The doors to headquarters stood open, golden light spilling out. It looked welcoming after what felt like a long night. Telsan and Lysan stood watching for anything else. I received a nod from Telsan and a grin from Lysan

“Anything to report?”

“Not really sir, I’m assuming that Mage Densk filled you in?”

“He did. One man lost. I’m sorry it came to this.

“Hazard of the job sir. He knew going in, we all did. We have Niven giving healing to all that have injuries. Very light all in all. Your man won’t come off the roof.”

“I’ll go up and have a word with him.”

“Very good sir. What did you do when you ran off?”

“I can’t say.”

“Understood. Whatever you did seems to have worked. We wouldn’t be here now if the monsters hadn’t broken.”

“Not enough.” I said softly.

“What was that?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just keep alert. I think the worst is over for now, but it pays to keep an eye out.”

“Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs sir. I know my job. You get some rest. We still have to get this city functioning again but that can wait until tomorrow. Lysar, I can handle this. Take him to his room; make sure he gets some peace. I think tomorrow is going to be hectic enough.”

Lysar nodded and headed for the stairs.” Well don’t just stand there, come on.”

I followed him not really sure what else I should be doing.

“Did you find your wizard?”

“I don’t think I should talk about it.”

“Don’t worry about it. We all know the council isn’t as pure and innocent as they make out. If they had hands here then something important happened. They used your oath against you?”

“How did you know?”

“It’s written all over you. Back when the noble were in charge, we saw it a million times. No one here is going to judge you. We have all been there. It doesn’t get any more pleasant but we know how it feels.”

“How do you handle it? I couldn’t fight, I could barely think.”

“You just get on with it. You know it’s not you, right?”

“Yes but it was…”

“Yeah, don’t think on it. There is nothing good down that path.”

We walked up the stairs in silence.

At the door to my room Lysan turned to me.” Tristan you are a good man, too young for this sort of thing but a good man. Don’t let whatever happened tarnish you. A lot more than you know rests on you. Make the world better. We will help but our past is always there.”

“Thank you Lysan.”

“Don’t thank me. I’ve done you no favours by telling you this. Get some rest.” Lysar headed back to the stairs leaving me standing alone in the door of my room.

I sat on the edge of the bed and started to unbuckle my sword holster. The night had been long, and I was more than ready for bed. Each buckle undid easily enough the soft leather sliding through the buckles. I pulled the now free scabbard into my lap and drew my sword. The stone blade glittered, the wizard blood long since absorbed into the stone. It looked less like stone and more like glass now. The white was fading in places leaving behind dizzying patterns like winters frost. The sigils swam like fish through the semi-transparent blade. I was too tired to make sense of it but this blade was becoming more that it had started. I guess we all do. We grow. We change. Every event leaves a mark that transforms us, some for good, some for bad, and some for neither. We can all become more or less, than we were. It was up to us to do our best whatever may come of it. This sword was born in a dark moment of my life but it had stood by me. It felt comfortable in my hand now, weather that was Vesic’s gift or not, I had made my peace with it. I would carry this sword. It was a part of me now.

I lay down on my bed, the naked sword in hand. I was ready for what tomorrow would bring. A sword may not be that useful for healing a city but having it in hand comforted me. I sank into sleep upon closing my eyes. For me there was no more fighting, no more waiting, no more anything.

(—-)
“Tristan, its morning. Time for work,” Brendon greeted me as I opened my eyes. I sat up, noticing my sword was still in my hands. I laid it over my lap then looked back to Brendon. He passed me a cup of water, which I raised to my lips and drank before speaking.

“How long have you been there?” I asked.

“Not long, you were stirring a while ago, so I went to fetch you a drink. Now, time to get cracking. We have lots to do today.”

“Nothing is planned as far as I know.”

“Telsan is downstairs with his team waiting on you. Alice dropped by.”

I turned my head to look out the grimy window, there wasn’t much visible but the shape of the early morning sun was clear. Sitting in bed all day wasn’t an option. Brendon was staring at me.

“What?”

“What happened out there?”

“I don’t think I should say.”

“Vesic came back last night; all is right with this place now. Or at least will be in short order.”

“Nothing is right; this city is just the beginning. It will sweep out from here, building slowly until it finally hits.”

“What will? Vesic wouldn’t say either.”

“The waves are coming back.”

“They have never been gone, just not as bad as they were.”

“No. it’s starting all over again.”

“So why are we still here? If the waves are back like they were before, this city should have been wiped off the face of the earth.”

“I don’t know Brendon. I really wish I did, but this is beyond anything I’ve ever been taught.” I stood, catching my scabbard as I rose.

Brendon took the offered cup back, a frown on his face.

“I would tell you more but it’s not just you, Vesic may have helped me but I don’t know his motives for being here. I’m leery about handing out information like this. You understand it’s nothing personal?”

“Of course I do Tristan, I wish you would tell me but I do understand why you won’t.”

“Thank you. Let’s go face the day then, shall we?” I finished buckling on my scabbard, its harness felt oddly natural already.

Brendon nodded and let the way down to the main hall.

(—)

 

The scene before me was frantic. Men darting around in all directions, centred on Telsan, who was seated at the desk, giving orders.

I walked over to him, my shadow falling over him; it was a lot brighter in here now that it was relatively clean.

“Tristan, good to see you are well.” he smiled up at me briefly, before his expression turned darker. “We lost one man. Light all in all but still a loss. As you can see, the team are working flat out bringing this place up to code. Most of the enchantments are ready to go. Once here is done we will be going out into the city to collect monster parts, well the bits that didn’t dissolve. We have made room for them downstairs with a stasis charm to hold them until the support staff gets here. Magic is fully functional again. We haven’t had any incidents. The whispering has stopped. What that means for us in the long term, I don’t know but it is making the reclamation of the city easier. Your girl dropped by not long ago, no idea why. She just loitered around the front, then left.”

“My girl?”

“Yes sir.” His grin came back with his words. “She saved our asses last night, I doubt she did that for us, you have the looks in the group.”

“Thank you very much, moving on. How are we progressing on-?”

“Sirs you will want to see this,” Lysan interrupted as he ran up to us, “Sorry to interrupt but it’s important.”

Telsan and I just looked at him, but he didn’t back down or retract his statement.

“Very well. What would you have us see?”

“Just out the front sirs. You need to see it with your own eyes.”

Almost as one we turned, matching expressions of curiosity mixed with mild confusion on our faces.

Lysan pressed a hand against the door, which opened slowly on its own, then stepped aside, letting us pass.

The early morning sun shone down through thin wispy clouds on to the site of last night’s battle. Most of the damage around us had been swept away while I’d slept. Our mages were not idle, although all five of them were now standing in the doorway.

In the street were people, not just people but solders: hard men and a few women, thousands of them. Each bearing weapons and armour, mainly leather armour, but a few larger men stood out covered in glittering glass like plate. They stood motionless, not a breath or a rustle, there was no clink of metal nor murmur of talk. They stood all looking at me.

I heard someone move behind me, but I didn’t turn. I was too caught up in the moment

As one they sunk to their knees, the air pressed down on me as I watched them.

“Our father’s oaths were given and repaid in kind. We serve our king still. What would you have us do?” The man closest to us called out. His armour moved like water over him, flickers of light and shadow chased each other through it like fish in a stream, unseen currents.

“Do your duty,” boomed Vesic’s voice just behind me as he stepped forward.

“My lord our duty is to you, it is what you say. Tell us, we have been without guidance for so long.”

“Bring peace to this land. This man here.” I felt a hand touch my shoulder. “Is a good man, serve him as you would me. Once peace has come, I shall call your oaths served. Is this agreeable to you?”

“What of our families here? They need us for trade. The land here is broken my lord. It can’t support us.”

“The land is whole for now. Tristan and his men will do all they can to make sure Nelar is productive. You are needed.”

“We serve.” The words felt forced out of him, but there was a hint of comfort in them. As if he knew what the answer would be and accepted his lot.

The thickening of the air continued through the whole exchange, a tightening, like the start of a storm.

I raised my gaze up to the sky. Nothing had changed.

Stray wisps of light danced in the space behind my eyes, my othersense pushing for me to look. I didn’t need to as if felt the familiar tugging inside my head. The oath, but I hadn’t bound myself with another. It wasn’t mine. Vesic’s and the army’s had shifted binding me with their service.

Vesic squeezed my shoulder in what I think was meant as a reassuring gesture. “Look after them. I give them to you for what needs to be done. You will know when the time comes.”

“But why give them to me?” I asked softly. “I can’t command an army.”

“You are the best of men that I can find. You won’t let them be abused. They are powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands.”

“I’m young. I make mistakes.”

“We are all young once Tristan. Now go and greet your men, there is work to be done.” The friendly tone reminded me of Brendon, as if the god and man were merging, maybe that happened. I would have to ask someone, one day, but not today. Today I had gained an army, and another responsibility. The weight of it was there, not yet settled as I looked over the grim faces of these brave souls committed to my cause whatever that was.

I stepped away from my mages, the battle last night, even though I had run off, seemed to have bound them to me, forged in fire and all that, I guess. There were now my mages. It was terrifying. Didn’t I have enough to worry about already? I tried to keep all my building frustrations off my face. It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t mine either but that had never mattered in the scheme of things.

The short walk to the spokesperson of the army felt long and tense, all eyes rested on me, the sense of a held breath. The wind didn’t move, nothing moved. It was a moment of crystalline timelessness, just waiting for what I would do.

It couldn’t last.

I met the eyes of the spokesperson, he was a large man, not much older than me by looks but that could be deceiving if he had high magic levels or used his power a lot. His eyes told me nothing, they were wary, measuring me.

“I hope to honour your service,” I said, the only words that came to mind, as I extended my hand down to him.

The moment stretched.

He finally extended his arm and griped my forearm, pulling himself up to his feet. “I hope so too. I am the leader of this guard. Vincent. We will serve as we must but you must uphold your part. This land, this city is broken. We have had to hire our services out for years to get the food for our families. How can you take us from that?”

“Telsan,” I called without looking back, knowing he was but a few steps behind me ready to intervene if anything went wrong.

“Yes sir.”

“Do we have any agriculture specialists?”

“Not with us sir, we do although all have the basic skills to bring life back to this soil, it won’t grow anything they want but it will grow what is needed to survive.”

“That will do. Can we train anyone?”

“Yes sir the skill are not overly complicated, anyone with an earth awakening should be able to learn quickly enough.” Telsan’s words were delivered sharply and efficiently.

I smiled slightly as I realised why. He wants to show competence to this army.

“Good, we can start with that. Vincent, I know you have travelled hard to get here, but you missed a battle last night. The city could well have fallen. Please go, all of you,” I raised my voice to reach the far reaches of the army, there had to be more than ten thousand packed in so tight that the wide streets felt narrow. “Go home, see your families, I have no idea how long you have been gone from here but they will have missed you. We have work to do but take this time while you can.” I looked Vincent in the eye, whatever he saw in my gaze he seemed to satisfy him.

He nodded and stepped back, commands to his army already pouring from his mouth.

I turned and walked back into headquarters, the mages quickly resumed what they had been doing as my eyes fell on them. I felt quietly impressed with myself, one hurdle down, next is, oh.

“Telsan, Lysan, I need you both for a moment. Did anyone see where Vesic went to?”

“He left. Brendon came back. I think he went upstairs,” Lysar said.

“Good, one less thing to worry about right now. I need to set up communication back home. I think Nelar is ours now; we still have much to do. Don’t forget that, but now it’s just getting this place running, simple really. Telsan you have handled things like this before?”

“Yes, don’t concern yourself there sir. We are just temporary. We get it functional then others who specialise in administration will be dispatched. Communication back home will be vital, we need to inform them of what happened, well you do, and I’m attached to your command now, so it’s your responsibility.”

“I need you and the men to go out into the city, work out where you can do the most, make sure there is water, clean water and shelter, and get the fields mapped out. Teach who you must the things they need to know. Do it now, I need this building empty.”

“Tristan, what do you intend to do?” Lysan asked. His voice wavered with uncertainty.

I reached into my pouch and pulled out the Orb seed.

“I’m going to activate this.”

MageLife Chapter 42

I stepped into the highest room in the tower; it took up the whole floor and some. Almost half of the space was balcony that wrapped around the top of the building. It created a wonderful effect of being open to the elements, which was ruined by the three men here.

Iason Aleres looked much the same, slightly more bedraggled but overall the same. His smug look made me tighten my grip on my sword.

Lessor nodded at me respectfully, he didn’t seem to be carrying a grudge about Vance.

Brak was in the centre of the room, the two other men apart from him, dark smoke flowed from his arms all the time he just stood there looking at me with a small smile on his face.

Memories of my imprisonment tried to show themselves but I shook my head and focused on the here and now.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“You tell me Tristan, you knew we were here, correct?” Brak said. He sounded so much like Jase, in his lecture mode that I almost told him how I had worked it out.

“I don’t think that’s how it works. I’m not your student. I’m not your friend. You have been declared rogue. The wizards are hunting you.”

“The twins will be hunting me,” he corrected gently. “I doubt Velar would have sent anyone else. He won’t have publicly declared me rogue. He trusts me, as well he should.”

“How can anyone trust you? You have killed and destroyed for…” I trailed off. I still had no idea why he had done any of it.

“He trusts me because I’ve earned it. We have been friends for a long time.”

“So why do any of this?”

“You haven’t figured it out? I’m disappointed; I had such hopes for you.”

“I think I have but the foundry doesn’t make sense.”

“That was never part my plan.” he looked pointedly at Iason. “It was a price I had to pay.”

“But why? People died. That doesn’t benefit anyone.”

“Ask Iason why if you must but this spell has to happen. I had help the last time we cast it, this time I have to do it alone.”

The smoke, sigils, flowed from Brak’s body and drifted out to join the rest of the spell. The strain of casting so many had started to show, he looked drawn and pale.

“Iason, care to tell me why so many people had to die for you? Or how you could compel a wizard to do your bidding.”

“I don’t owe you answers.” Iason relied haughtily. “Count yourself lucky you still breathe.”

“Don’t be such a prick Ias, the boy deserves answers. He has been caught up in our plans far too often to not give him an explanation,” Lessor said.

“He saved my father, he deserves an early grave.”

“Boys this is delicate, I could do without an argument.”

“Then forget the foundry for now. Why are you here and what are you doing? Commanding an army of monsters against helpless people, that isn’t what wizards should be doing.”

“I’m doing what needs to be done. You have figured out that a wizard would be here. But you have an education, the common people don’t. They don’t need to know. They will welcome the council with open arms. You and your friends down there will be hailed as heroes for coming to their defence in their time of need. Nelar secure, the trade route open and free to use. The manpower to fight this war as it needs to be fought. Everything we need.”

“This isn’t the way.”

“It’s the only way, don’t be so naive. Velar thought peace was the way too, but I’m showing him this war is unavoidable, we didn’t start it but we will finish it.” The affable veneer started to crack as his exhaustion got to him.

“What man power? There is no one here.”

“Did you hear that boys, no one here. What do you think they trade for food? Dust? They have men, soldiers that hire out, sleepers but they have seen combat,” Brak said.

“I was born here,” Lessor said. “I know how it works, the king’s guard. Not that idiot downstairs but the mage king, Nelar was his home too. The very start of our way of life began here. We serve in the merc corps; every man over the age of blooming does his time to pay his way. That is an army that is needed. This will bring them out and strike a blow at the empire.”

“So why the foundry? Why hurt the duchies? Your own people?”

“To stir things up, to generate the emotion needed to fight a war. The foundry was Iason’s idea, his price for his help. Westhaven should never have been a target. It got out of hand and for that I apologise,” Brak said sincerely.

Lessor nodded at that but Iason looked unhappy.

“Don’t give him anything. No apologies’ no nothing. Jase deserved it.”

“Pull out the monsters, the civilians shouldn’t pay the price for this.”

“You don’t know the half of the prices the people have paid. It might not be fair but that’s how it is. The last war cost us badly, the nobles needed to be taken out,” he stopped a hitch in his voice. “We broke the world to save it. We did what we had to,” Brak said intently, it felt like he was trying to justify his actions to himself, more than to me.

“What are you talking about?”

“He means the waves Tristan, they were the first strike against the nobles,” lessor answered.

“The waves were natural. There have always been waves.”

“No they weren’t and there haven’t been waves on that scale, ever.”

“But how? Why?”

“You wouldn’t understand, its wizard magic,” Iason spat.

“Shush Ias. I’m sick of your attitude. You have been nothing but a hindrance to my mission all along. You have no understanding or care of what we are doing. I made a mistake with you. All you care about is some petty revenge against your father for something that wasn’t his fault. Let it go and if you can’t do that, just shut up.” Brak snapped at Iason before turning back to me. “Magic is a thing separate yet part of our world, it has its own rules, and it even has mass. It can act in all sorts of ways if you have the knowledge and insight to see. I researched a spell many years ago, this one, which makes a massive change in pressure, causing magic to flow from one place to another. It’s much more dramatic than that, once the event has been set off it builds until it creates waves, very much like on the ocean, peaks and troughs, once one has grown either high or low enough it touches on this world, affecting everything. It can destroy and warp, the results aren’t always predictable. They have been settling for years but it’s the perfect weapon to launch at the empire, they should be too damaged to retaliate.”

“You caused hundreds of thousands of peoples deaths in the first waves and now you want to do it again? It’s madness.”

“It needs to be done, we can’t fight the empire fairly, we are just too small.”

“We have wizards and mages, even sleepers can fight, we don’t need to do this.”

“Tristan you are too young to understand but sometimes the hard choices have to be made.”

“I know about hard choices, I’ve made my own. Please don’t do this. There is always another way.”

“I have to. And so do you. As a mage you swore to obey the council, I speak with the council’s voice.”

“I swore to serve the council; I will have no part in this. This is against the values of the council.”

“You have no choice. I call your oath due. You will follow my orders to the letter.” A sliver of light slipped from his lips with his words, it floated into the air before twisting into chains of darkening light, it struck at me.

I stumbled back, but it caught on my wrist. The chains slithered up my body, wrapping around me.

I could feel the rising pressure in my head as the oath tightened around my links, compelling me to obey. I took a step forwards, each movement slow and sluggish.

I knew what needed to be done I just had to get there fast enough.

“Tristan Sodden, Mage, oath-bound servant, your master’s call. Obey and submit.” Every word that Brak spoke bound me tighter, the chains growing heavier and tighter.

“Give up Tristan, it will go easier on you,” Lessor said, compassion on his face.

Pain started to dig its claws into my mind. I took another step. Magic wasn’t an option now; my links were being choked by my oath.

“Do your duty mage.” The wizard finished the final line, and the oath snapped taut.

I smiled as felt my mind still: No thoughts, no pain, nothing, just emptiness. I no longer fought, my duty was clear.

I crossed the remaining distance, barely a few steps and slid my blade into Brak’s side.

“How?” A befuddled look passed over Brak’s face, the rainbow eyes clearing for just a moment, and then the spell that he cast was complete. The final sigil floated away to join the rest.

It didn’t go off dramatically. The sphere flickered into more than its parts, a solid ball of swirling colours then it flew away rapidly without sound, north. To the empire

Brak still lived, the wound wouldn’t be life threatening, he slid off my blade with a pained moan just as a step sounded from behind me. I turned my head to see the twins entering the hall.

They knelt next to him, one on either side. One touched his wound. The other whispered in his ear.

Brak smiled and sigils started floating away from him, they hovered in a ring around them.

Iason and Lessor stepped into the ring, their shock at me stabbing their boss short-lived but welcome.

“Be seeing you Tristan,” one of the twins said, I couldn’t tell them apart.

The ring activated leaving nothing behind. They were all gone, portaled away beyond my reach.

I was left alone at the top of the tower, bloody sword in hand, feeling empty and confused.

In the distance, I could hear the bell tolling the all clear.

The nights activities seemed to catch up with me then, I sank to my knees, all my strength gone. I’d been too late to stop everything; the waves were coming again if Brak was to be believed. The monster army was free, no longer under command; it should be easier to mop up. But not right now. Right now, all I wanted was to go home, to hug Sophia and Lyphia. The waves were coming and everything was about to get worse.

I raised my head to look out at the sky. Flames covered the clouds, flickering light falling down on the city. Each building seemed to be shadows painted against the sky

The bell stopped ringing as the sky exploded with lights. Green and blue threads of magic were suddenly visible without othersense. They covered the sky the earth everything, these were the forces behind the world brought into sight by Brak’s spell. The earlier pressure of the oath came back, but this time it felt as if the air was heavy, like a storm.

The threads throbbed with power like rivers in flood. I could feel something building in the magic. The voice I heard at times, always there but not always audible, was screaming now in tortured agony. The ribbons of power twisted with a pulse then splintered into fragments. It looked like it was raining light, beautiful if you didn’t know that it was the end of the world, again.

I remembered, I’d been a child, but that hadn’t changed anything. The waves killed indiscriminately. They had destroyed so much; parts of Westhaven still hadn’t recovered. So many people lost. We had never been a large nation; we couldn’t handle the losses well. Nearly everyone had lost someone in the waves. Refugees fled the wreckage of their homes, their lives. Monsters had vanished from the world in the wake of the waves, but so had the best magical creatures, the fair folk, creatures that helped, that benefited the magic. Their magic was different to ours but close enough that we could each learn from each other. It was said that all wizards studied with one to gain their status. Now it looked like it had been our own that had caused the waves, my oath made the protection of magic my priority, I had to stop further harm.

I was way out of my league. All I wanted was to go home. But I had a job to do. I needed to fix this city and bring it under the council’s control. If everything I had heard was right, we had a war to fight against the empire.

I walked to the edge of the balcony and stood a moment looking at the start of the end. It was beautiful. Each fragment of light fell on the city, touching monsters and buildings alike. The monsters screamed and tore at the pure energies that hit them, before they dissolved slowly. A ragged cheer went up from the few mages and civilians fighting.

From up here everything looked so small. It was easy to see how people could feel removed from it all: those that manipulated others or devalued the fact that each person, each life was important. To see how they could view everyone as pieces on a game board, to be moved. Life wasn’t like that. But I could see how the greater good could be used as a justification for great evils.

I closed my eyes and listen to the cheers, each voice was a person, the emotion, the desperation of a battle that felt lost and turning into joy at the change of fortune.

I felt a smile stretch my face. In the face of it all, the futility, these people fought. They were my kind of people.

I turned on my heel and walked to the stairs. It was time to get down there and finish the job.

MageLife Chapter 41

Marching doesn’t really convey the emotion of the moment, it says monotonous, repetitive. It doesn’t cover the frantic scurry as we stepped into the street.

The new headquarters had a nice arch framing the door, I’d not really noticed it before, but I noticed it now.

It was the only thing that kept us sheltered from the swarms of monsters roaming the streets. I guess a group of mages cutting their way into the horde generates a lot of interest. They couldn’t attack on all sides. Their numbers were too great. Who knew being out numbered could be a good thing?

All this ran through my mind in the instant before the mage next to me pulled on his link. He raised his wand and pointed into the void hanging above us and then…

Things fell.

I have no idea what he did, but it distracted the beasts. Night wings and harpies fell still living from the sky as if the air couldn’t bear them to touch it anymore.

“Light, we need light, we’re blind out here,” I shouted. Someone heard me.

The sky lit up for miles in every direction. Fire poured into the clouds from directly above us.

We could see. I wished we couldn’t.

Trolls strolled down the streets, their clubs dragging behind them, the cobbles torn from the path.

Goblins, the lesser cousin of the trolls, smaller but quicker, followed along, their high-pitched laughs as they broke into the buildings and pulled people out filled the air.

Night wings twitched with the harpies on the ground, their fall hard but not fatal. Their bat like wings and strange tentacles were on display for all to see.

Small earth elementals completed the forces.

Something wasn’t right.

Telsan and the others at the front of the formation were locked in close combat. I’d been kept at the back, the press of bodies too much to force the issue right now.

I could now see but something was missing, what was it?

A legion of goblins, grey skinned and short but gangly, their oddly jointed hands holding makeshift weapons, sharpened sticks and shards of stone rushed forwards.

A seven-man army is too small to resist that sort of pressure. Heavy magic isn’t without its costs and one of them is time. Another is attention.

“Tristan, you have earth, don’t you?” Lysar asked as he pushed away a probing goblin. It snarled and clawed but its limbs were too short to gain purchase.

I nodded.

“Raise a platform under us all. Slope the sides so they have to fight their way up.”

I looked around, measuring the space: a hundred feet on each side, narrowing to ten at the door.

I opened my senses wide, braced for the rush. It still struck me like a blow to the head: Colours and sounds, the sick signatures of trolls and goblins. Night wings a strange harmony of light and dark. I pulled on my link; the twisted magic flooded my body. I poured it all into the earth under the cobbles, hunting for solid rock, there not too deep. I commanded it to rise up.

The air filled with the low rumbling sound of grinding stone.

“Good, a bit higher Tristan, that should do it. Give the guys a chance to rest and think.”

The front was slowly disengaging. The few fresh men swapped out with the commander and the two others.

If I was to be fighting for my life with these men, it would be great if I knew their names.

I released my magic, letting the excess drain back down my link. Then I stepped forward to take my turn on the front. The growls and whimpers from the edge of the mound caught my eye. I found myself trying to see down into the shadows.

“We have a short respite; we need to use it for the biggest advantage. The trolls will step right onto us. What have we got?”

“Sir, Grell and I can set some wards, but I don’t know how they will do here. Given another day we could turn this place into a fortress, the magic is purifying. New flows are coming. Once that is done we can cleanse this city of the monsters.”

“We have to avoid casualty. We don’t have the manpower to fight a protracted war. Plan it but we need short term gains.”

“We can step back into headquarters sir. Seal it up and wait it out.”

“But what about the civilians?” I asked.

“We will hold here as much as possible. If we give the beasties the juicy target they might leave the civilians alone.”

I missed the rest of the conversation.

A small group of goblins had made it up the mound. My sword swung, taking heads and limbs. The moans of pain and anger sent shivers up my spine but I didn’t stop.

Like cutting down weeks at the farm, my arm moved on its own. Flickers of flame licked the blade. Blood, bone and other less pleasant things sprayed over me.

I lost track of time.

A hand touched my shoulder, I spun, my arm pulled back to strike.

Telsan stood there, his face shocked at something.

“They have stopped for a few moments. We have something planned. Get a drink and take a rest.”

Numbly I nodded before pulling away from the edge; I didn’t look at what I had done.

Lysar brought a cup of water over to me as I leant against the arch.

“You did well up there. Not many freshly raised have a taste for battle. Not that this counts as one yet.”

I held out my left hand for the cup, my mouth suddenly felt dry.

“Here you go. Rinse first off.”

I did and spat bloody water on the earth, which hungrily sucked it up. “What’s being planned? I was distracted.”

“I’ll bet you were. That sword is something special. Where did you learn to use it? We don’t teach swordplay at the academy much anymore, much easier to give the babies wands and staffs.”

“Vesic taught me.”

“Lessons from a god? Ha, you are touched by something different Tristan. Anyways, the plan is a surprise.”

“You don’t know it do you?”

“Nope, I had my own things to worry about, missed the planning session. Your boy, Brendon is fine, keeping the lights on. He didn’t even look tired or anything.”

“Good. Anything we can do to take the pressure off him?”

“I’ve got some globes, not many. It’s hard to enchant stuff out here. Everything resists.”

“Don’t I know it? How are we supposed to know what to do if we don’t know the plan? Aren’t I commander or something?”

“Yep, ask one of the boys. I’m not one of them really. I’m kept out of their little club.”

“Seems close knit.”

Lysar pointed back towards the front. Telsan and one of his men were heading our way. They were blood splattered and worn looking.

“Lysar, water please, while I talk to our commander.”

Lysar walked back inside.

“Tristan, you did well.” Telsan raised his hand to his hair, but upon seeing the blood on it, he lowered it before making contact. “The platform is letting us hold them off. We need to work out what to do in the long term, but I think we will make it through the night.”

“Good to know.”

Telsan cracked a small smile at that. “The boys have got some tricks coming up, nothing spectacular. Don’t be surprised.”

“If you tell me what to expect I won’t be surprised.”

“I don’t know. Grell and Densk are unpredictable. They say they have something, that’s good enough for me. It could be almost anything. But I doubt it will be big, the magic is wrong, they won’t risk drawing much.”

“Something has been bothering me about all this. Now that I’ve had a few moments to think a question occurred, where is the leader?”

“Leader? These are monsters Tristan, they don’t need a leader.”

“It’s too organised. Look. Waves of goblins, shock troops of trolls, air support and sappers. Where have the elementals gotten to?”

“I’ve got Jedas scrying the field. Now we know what’s out there he can focus in. the elementals are on his list.”

“He won’t find them. They are all beneath us. Something has caused this.”

“For the sake of argument say I agree with you. What could have caused this?”

“I don’t know but we won’t win unless we find out.”

“No one could command an army like this except maybe a wizard.”

“That’s it, a wizard.”

“A wizard wouldn’t do this.”

“Do you know a wizard named Brak?”

“The arch wizard’s best friend, co-founder of the wizard’s council, that Brak?”

“Yes. Did you know he has gone rogue?”

“What? Why would a wizard go rogue? That makes no sense.”

“I don’t know, but what I do know is the council are looking for him. He was behind the foundry explosion in Westhaven.”

“Tristan, a wizard wouldn’t be here. The magic is too damaged for them.”

“Some of them could manage it; I’ll bet Brak is one of them.”

“You are betting, heavily. I don’t see a reason for a wizard to set all this in motion. I can’t let you go.”

“But I know where he is.”

“You don’t know anything Tristan, you are guessing. This is all just guesswork. There is no leader, no wizard here.”

“I’m sorry Telsan but this won’t end here. I have to go.” I pushed off from the wall I was leaning against and ran to the edge of the platform, the drop was only a few feet, but every little helps in a fight.

The goblins had pulled back, they weren’t assaulting the line anymore, they crouched at the base, growling and fighting among themselves.

I couldn’t slip through. Not unnoticed, their senses were too sharp.

I racked my brains for an answer. Nothing came to mind.

My sword flared with flame, casting deep shadows. The bright light made the goblins flinch.

Nothing for it but, to fight my way through. Hopefully Vesic’s gift wouldn’t vanish on me.

My shoulder ached from earlier but it was loose, that would have to be enough.

I raised my blade and ran into the swarm.

Arms and makeshift weapons reached out for me.

“Cover him,” came a shouted command before bolts of fire and light flew into the mass from behind me.

A hole opened in the clump of goblins. I ran for it. My legs pumping, arm lashing out to take out the goblins that tried to close it.

Where were gnomes when you wanted them? The thought crossed my mind as I slashed and cut for my life. The absurdity of it all set off something inside me. A bubbling of emotions, my heart raced.

I laughed.

Blood flew through the air and still I made my way forwards, laughing all the way.

The goblins were taking a beating; the cover was clearing swaths of them. The stench of burning goblin is hard to describe, sweet and sickly with a hint of rot. Like burning wet leaves filled with honey. Disgusting but you can’t help taking a sniff trying to work out what it smelt like.

I angled my path to the king’s tower.

That was when the earth elementals pulled their trick.

The street rippled, cobbles rising in the air and striking indiscriminately.

I pulled as much power as I dared, the sigil flared in my mind again. Its shape faint behind my eyes for a moment. Just like at the tribunal. This time though I knew what to do with it. I forced as much magic as I could into the flowing runic shape. It grew more defined and filled with colour. A shield formed around me, deflecting cobbles away.

The feeling of power running through me that strongly made me feel invincible. I quickened my pace, my sword cutting all the while, blood sizzling down the burning blade. The runic shapes rising from the surface of the blade glowed darkly in all the colours of the rainbow, blues bleeding into reds and yellows, oranges and greens mixing with the near black blood of the goblins.

A tingling in my head slowed me: A sense of something strange not far from me. The king’s tower as I had guessed. Subtle pulses of magic.

The forces thinned as I turned the corner. I could see the entry of the tower. The doors were still missing but the planks blocking the way had been removed. A pair of massive trolls guarded the door.

The trolls looked out over the street, clubs in hands. They could have been ugly statues for they moved.

Blasts weren’t really my thing but with this amount of power running through my channels, I could do something.

The wizard might feel it if it was too strong so I would have to be subtle. Subtle wasn’t really my thing.

I opened my senses as wide as I could.

The world exploded into light.

The damaged dark flows flashed into view, each one starkly contrasted against the shadowed material world. They actually flowed now, power rushing through them in torrents all directed into and up the tower. A shape was forming at the top of the tower: a sphere of sigils, thousands of them in swirling patterns. A large chunk was missing but as I watched a few more floated out to join them. A huge spell that I couldn’t even begin to work out what it did. But whatever it was, was building.

The trolls glimmered with twisted light; strands filled every part of their bodies, holding them together.

A small idea took root in my mind.

I let my shield fall; I wouldn’t need it for this. The spare power instantly tried to overtake my mind, whispers and visions swam across my senses, promises of everything I could want, peace, safety, comfort. I did my best to ignore them and put the power to good use.

The earth elementals trick of throwing cobbles wouldn’t work with trolls they recover too quickly, but maybe something slower mould work.

I sent my power into the earth, softening the ground beneath their feet.

Slowly they started to sink; they looked at each other but made no move to save themselves. Maybe they had been ordered to stand and watch for someone or something. This apparently wasn’t it.

It wasn’t long before they were buried up to their shoulders. I hardened it quickly, it wouldn’t hold for long but they were too big to get through the doors.

I shut down my other senses and pushed the almost overwhelming power away. I couldn’t run the risk of over using it now. I wavered as it left me then took a deep breath and ran for the door.

The trolls saw me or heard something, their heads turned to me. Then as if they realised something at the same time they let out identical roars. The air shook with the force of it. I froze, my heart racing, fear flooded me.

I swallowed it down.

Only thirty feet or so to go, I forced myself to go on.

The trolls struggled, the hardened earth cracking around their shoulders.

I quickened my pace.

I only had ten feet to go; I was almost between them when the earth lost its battle with them. The one of the left raised its club as it climbed from the hole.

I ran even faster my sword out to defend.

The one on the right put out a hand to grab me as I passed.

I felt it latch onto my ankle. I fell as my momentum forced me over

I lashed out blindly at what was holding me. My sword met flesh.

The troll screamed. Its friend swung its club down to defend it.

I rolled out of the way.

It missed by inches.

I scurried forwards on hands and knees, putting as much speed as I could to get me through the doorway before the trolls ganged up.

I made it.

Just.

The trolls roared in fury. A club was poked through the entryway.

I managed to get myself to the side of the door, out of their reach unless they knelt down. I stood, doing my best to slow my breathing and kicked off the weight on my leg. It was the severed hand of the troll that grabbed me.

Looking around, I couldn’t see anything more than last time I was here; if anything, I could see less. It had been day then. Now Brendon’s fire could barely be seen through the empty windows. The light was dim and uneven.

The troll’s efforts to get me quickly ended once they realised that they couldn’t reach.

I waited a moment more, just to be sure, and then moved to the stairs. Whatever was going on would be at the top near the massive spell growing up there.

As I climbed, I thought about what I would do to stop it. Nothing came to mind. I didn’t know enough, of magic, spells in particular to do anything. I didn’t know why Brak was here or if he was alone.

On the second landing, the king’s hall stood empty, no sign of a struggle or anything out of place as far as I could see. I moved on to the next flight of stairs. My sword’s light had dimmed once my power stopped flowing, but it gave off enough to see, just.

Vibrations pulsed through my feet from the stairs as I got close, dust trickled down from the ceiling, as I got closer to the landing. Just off of the landing, an open door way to the peak of the tower beckoned.

“Good of you to make it Tristan, it’s always nice to have an appreciative audience for something like this,” the old brittle voice of Brak said from through the doorway.

MageLife Chapter 40

Brendon woke me, unsurprisingly, it had been a late night. We finished checking the rooms, they were empty, but we did find the employee quarters that Brendon had said would be there. Waking up in a bed was nice after the time on the road. I blinked groggily at him. “What is it?”

“It’s morning, and there appear to be some mages here, asking for you?”

“Already? Okay, give me a moment to wake up and I’ll be…. Where are they?”

“Downstairs, I left them in the entry hall.”

“Did you get any names?”

“Niven, Telsan, Lysan and a few others that didn’t talk, they looked like a unit. Telsan and Niven even have military uniforms.”

“I know the names. Give me a moment to myself, I will be right down.”

Brendon left.

I got up walked to the basin in the corner, it was a different kind than we used back in Westhaven, Brendon said it was mechanical, whatever that meant, I had to turn it, it was stiff and flakes of rust crumbled off, discoloured, reddish-brown water poured from the tap, my power said it was safe to drink but it was off putting. I took a handful and rinsed my mouth, then scrubbed the remnants of sleep from my face.

Getting dressed didn’t take much longer. I only had to pull on my coat, sleeping in clothes isn’t very comfortable, but trolls don’t care if it’s bedtime or not. I picked up my sword from where I’d left it. I really needed to find a better way of carrying it, a sheath or something.

I walked down the stairs and saw the group of mages standing to attention facing away from me. Their uniforms looked none the worse for wear, I wondered how they got here, my own uniform was a bit travel worn.  Just the sight of them standing strong made my heart rise, being able to pass this off to someone else would be a relief.

My boots must have made a sound on the smooth marble floor because as a group they turned, hands reaching for swords and wands.

Telsan made a small gesture upon seeing me and the squad relaxed. He stepped forwards and saluted, fist to heart, a small bow. “Sir, I place myself and my team at your command per orders by master mage Jase Aleres. We are to follow any and all instructions to facilitate the integration of Nelar into the duchies under the control of the wizard’s council.”

I couldn’t speak, seeing a squad salute me, the most junior mage in service, well apart from Solem, but I didn’t count him, had left me without words.

Telsan walked over to me, an intense but not aggressive look on his face. “Sir, could I have a word in private,” he said his voice pitched low so only I could hear.

I nodded.

Telsan turned to his team. “Scout the building, find somewhere to set up field command, you all know what we need. Brendon Vesic should be able to help you get orientated.”

I looked around, there was Brendon, stood to the side of the room, I’d not even noticed him entering. I walked back to the stair well, to wait.

“You have your orders, dismissed.” Telsan’s voice echoed through the building. I could hear a great many boots heading off in various directions. He came into the stairwell, he looked rather uncomfortable all of a sudden.

“You wished to speak to me?”

“Yes sir, may I speak freely?”

“Of course.”

“Sir, you are young, you have no experience and I fear you will lead us to ruin.”

“Well that is very forthright of you. I can’t argue with your conclusion. You are right; I’m young, I don’t know what I’m doing here and I’ve never commanded before. I was under the impression you were coming to relieve me here, but that seems to not be the case.”

“Master Jase felt you would need support, so he found the best team he could. We have a good mix of skills, we work well as a team and we have handled situations similar to this before.”

“You have handled places where the magic is damaged the people are without hope or dead, the ruler of said place is insane, cut off from communication with the mages or the wizards, no hope of support?”

“Well, not all of them at once but we have handled them.”

“I understand you reservations. I don’t want to command. I’m not trained for it. I’m not suited for it, I work better alone, I’ve been alone for so long.”

“You aren’t alone anymore sir. Have faith. I do have a suggestion though.”

“Yes, any and all suggestions are welcome, I’m at a loss as to how to command.”

“If you place me as second, then I will handle the day to day. You will still have to deal with the rigours of commanding but most of the pressure should be off, giving you a chance to learn. I’m more than happy to teach you if it keeps my men alive.”

I found myself nodding along, visions of his men in pieces filled my sight.

“Sir… Sir is everything okay?”

I blinked.

“Yes I’m fine, sorry. It’s a lot to take in.”

“I understand sir, all we expect is you to try your best. The mission is important but so is loss of life. We are valuable assets, particularly with the war flaring up. I will help where I can but the burden is yours.”

“Thank you, what is your assessment of priorities?”

“I have just arrived but the first thing that needs doing is to turn this building into a real headquarters, we need to establish a presence in this city and arrange communications back home. To that end I do have something that Master Jase gave me, he said that you would know what to do with it.” He reached into a pouch on his belt, much like mine, it must be fairly standard. It was useful.

A flare of magic, flickered through the air as he pulled out a small round ball of what looked like glass.

I reached out a hand to take it, the sphere refracted the light oddly, as if it was bigger on the inside. I activated my other-senses and wished I hadn’t.

The room was bathed in bright shimmering light. Echoes of music started singing through the air. The ball was radiating glimmering magic, its concepts so deeply tangled I couldn’t pick a single one out. Sigils spun around the glass, their strange depth distorting the light, making other shapes out of light and shade. As I watched I started to piece together what it could be.

“This is an orb, isn’t it?”

“I’ve never seen one, but I believe it might be.”

“How did Jase get hold of this? I thought they were all custom made.”

“Master Jase didn’t feel necessary to tell me. I know he has contacts, Jase is well respected among us. That is rare.”

“That makes me feel better that he chose you then. I trust his judgement, but it’s nice to know that you do too.”

Telsan nodded. “If you will excuse me sir, I need to check on the men.”

“Of course.” My eyes were drawn back to the orb seed in my hand. The twisted magic didn’t seem to be touching it, if anything it was pushing back at it, keeping the corruption away.

I was left there with very little idea as to what to do with the orb if the magic affected it like I suspected then it would be dangerous to plant it. On the other hand if it worked like the Westhaven Orb, drawing magic from its commander then it should be safe, filtered through a person in full control of their own power would protect it from harm. Probably best to put it away and revisit, it was tempting, restoring communications home, being able to receive orders and advice. The enchantment designs that I would be able to get could change the game here.  If there was something that could do what I did at the foundry site, rerouting the flows, on such a large scale without killing me, then that would make it so much easier.

I put the glass ball into my pouch and closed down my other senses as much as I could, I still had an awareness of the magical landscape but it wasn’t distracting. I took a deep breath to focus, this wild daydreaming wasn’t helping, I needed something solid to build on, not wishes.

I walked back into the entry hall to find the six man team scattered around. The room itself had changed. One of the men I didn’t know was working on the walls, shifting them to conform to the Westhaven headquarters, I’d never seen a different outpost of the mages, so that was all I could compare it to. Another man was shaping the desk, it was growing, roots were visible at the base of it, melding with the stone. Little flickers of enchantment rose through the air, pulling power in a hundred different directions.

Lysan noticed my entry, he walked over to me. “Sir, good to see you again, on your feet this time.”

“It’s good to see you too Lysan, how did you get assigned this duty?”

“I must have pissed someone offs, I hear you know how that is,” he said jokingly with a twinkle in his glowing eyes.

“Very funny, what’s the real story?”

“You know I’m not attached to a squad, I’m a trouble shooter.  Master Jase wanted someone you’re familiar with, he couldn’t come himself, he is looking after your apprentices. So here I am. It’s not so bad. Hard work never killed anyone.”

“Trolls do though.”

“We can handle trolls. You have enough power here to handle most things.”

“Have you noticed the magic here?”

“How could we not? Most of us pulled heavily after the waves, we know how to deal with twisted magics.”

“So why has nothing been done? In all this time surely we could have done something to help this place.”

“It wasn’t a priority the years after the waves have been stretched, we don’t have the man power. There have been rebellions, in the very early years. There was just so much to do. You are the first to be raised to Mage in a relatively quiet time. There hasn’t been a mage raised since the waves. We just don’t have the resources to do everything. Not counting the fact that a great many mages are hardly suitable to do much of anything anymore.” A distant look filled his eyes. I knew that look, remembering things best left alone.

“I understand, it’s just hard to see this and not want to do something.”

“Wizards can’t come here. There are more sensitive to the magic. In some ways it helps them, in others it cripples them.”

“No wizards can come here?”

“Well some might be able to, but it wouldn’t be easy on them. And it would be dangerous for all around them, you have felt the pressure. Imagine that a thousand times more powerful, pushing on you, prompting you to act. Then imagine that it was a wizard breaking loose, we can do some pretty amazing stuff but wizards are in a league all their own.”

“So that’s why this place has been left to rot. Nice to know, I guess. Anyways there is a birthing pit nearby, I doubt it’s the only thing that needs rooting out.”

“Well sir we have our hands full making this place a fit headquarters. We are making progress, we should be done in the next few hours, not finished but it will serve. We still need to do a great many enchantments to protect this place from the disruptions in the magic. We don’t have all that many that will withstand it and still function, so we will just duplicate them. Hopefully they will work together. This birthing pit shouldn’t be able to churn out another one so soon, they take time to grow.”

“We don’t know how big it is, nor if it’s the only one. The way the magic is feeling, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other nasties about.”

“There won’t be any gnomes this close, they start at the edge of disruptions like this. That’s something at least. Those little bleeders are a hassle to handle. Trolls are easy with the right tools, but yeah you’re right, if there is a pit there will be other things. Did you see anything in the sky when you came in?”

“No, we flew in, the sky was empty.”

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything, so we can’t stop worrying about Night-wings, corrupted Sylphs, Harpies. Most of the magical creatures went into hiding during the waves but we’ve seen a resurgence in the recent past. Lots of things we thought gone are coming back. Not all of them bad.  I hear a unicorn was spotted in the forests near Greenlaw.”

“Doesn’t help all that much Lysan, it would be nice to be safe.”

“There isn’t such a thing. Safe is a myth. Best to be prepared. This close to the mountains, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rocs and earth elementals are about, they don’t normally bother people but twisted magic can do odd things to them. There are way too many creatures that could be around, we need to be alert.”

“Is there any way to fix the magic?”

“Lots of ways if you want to die in flames. We can do a bit here and there, drain the corruption and try to get the flows moving right again. It’s been like this for a long time, it’s not a quick fix.”

“I think I should go out and see if I can find some people to talk to.”

“I wouldn’t advise that just yet sir.” formality came back all of a sudden.

“Give me your reasoning then.”

“We aren’t secure here, for now I wouldn’t advise going anywhere alone. You don’t have the skills for this.”

“How do you know what skills I have or not?” Anger seemed to be sweeping over me. This man who barely knew me telling me what to do. I could smash him to pieces, open the earth beneath him.

“Lower the sword Tristan, this is the wrong fight,” Lysan said with a tightness to his voice that seemed out of place.

I’d not even noticed it coming up.

My breath came faster, blood racing through my veins. My arms wanted to swing my blade, to cut, anything.

“Tristan, listen to me.” Lysan’s voice had shifted to something softer, gentler, almost soothing. “This isn’t what you want, push the magic away. You don’t need it here. There is nothing to fight, all is well.”

I felt the strength draining out of me, making me waver on my feet.

Lysan’s words continued as if from a distance, too faint to make out. My vision flickered into the magical, soft shadows crawled through the room, coming for me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder just as I let go of the sword, the clatter it made as it landed, shook me.

I blinked, back into normal vision.

“That is why you don’t have the skills, you are too sensitive. Not much we can do about that except be there with you.”

My answer didn’t even make sense to me, the half formed words just nonsense in my ears.

Let’s take you back to your room give you a chance to recover, it’s not so different from backlash. The patterns can have nasty effects when you fight them off.

Patterns? I asked, the word didn’t seem to fit.

Yes patterns. Like paths worn in the earth or a rivers course, you can’t just change it. They take time and effort to wear themselves a new route. They are doing that in your head but you have your own routes, this one wasn’t subtle.

We were heading up the stairs before I knew it.

“So what now?” My head was ringing like a bell, echoes of something lingered longer than they should.

“Now you go someplace quiet and you pull yourself together. Remember the cleansing exercises from when you were recovering?”

“That’s what they are for?”

“Not just this but lots of magic/mind interactions. Go through a few of them. We will carry on downstairs and if we need you one of us will come to get you.”

“But the pit. It needs handling.”

“Not just yet, we don’t know enough. You spoke to the commander, I’m sure he knows what he is about. You get your task done, we will do ours.”

He left me at the door to my room.

(—)

The sound of a bell ringing in the distance drew me back from my exercises, the confusion of earlier gone, leaving me feeling calm and relaxed. I lengthened the final stretch, my muscles flowed smoothly over each other. My breath came slowly, deep and measured. I opened my eyes to find one of the mages standing in the doorway looking at me.

“Sir, I didn’t want to disturb you but the bell is ringing,” The older mage said, he fidgeted with his dark hair, nervous for some reason.

“I heard. Another troll?” The words came out unaffected, distant.

“The squad is assembled in the reception. We are waiting on your go ahead. Commander Telsan didn’t want to move out without your say so.”

“Why not?”

“You are our commander, I guess. He doesn’t share his reasoning with us, we trust him.”

“Of course you do. Let’s go see the good commander then, shall we?”

The mage nodded and stepped back from the doorway.

I strode forwards, not slowly nor at any great speed. Everything seemed so distant. My normal passion and drive dampened. I shrugged at the notion, nothing to do about it right now.

The squad was assembled in the lobby as I’d been informed, their faces wary and alert.  The commander, Telsan was walking between his men, eyeing them up, offering a solid hand on the shoulder or a grim nod to the men that may die this night.

That sense of danger looming filled the air, like the calm before the blackest storm sweeps in. A full blown tempest is too much for mages, only a wizard could touch it. That atmosphere pervaded the room. The sense that death was waiting for each man, was enough to chill the blood of anyone, hardened soldiers are no exception to fear.

“Commander Sodden, good of you to join us,” Telsan said as he caught my eye.

“I had things to do, you know how it is. Now what’s the situation? I heard the bell.”

“The bell is a warning system the populace have come up with, Niven and Felas there managed to speak to someone earlier. There is always someone in the towers, normally more than one, watching the walls. There is a tower in each quadrant, at the cardinal points. They light a fire, the central tower rings the bell. I’ve had the men scrying but nothing is coming through. The magic is too distorted to let a clear picture through. So we have very little to go on.”

“Then why all the grim looks?”

“Can’t you feel it… sir? The charge in the air, there is something coming, something big.”

“I’ve been doing my exercises, so that I don’t feel much of anything. Could it have anything to do with us arriving?”

““It could, we have been throwing power around all day. It might have been sensed or disturbed something. I just don’t know.””

“Where is my sword?”

Lysan stepped over to me. His greying hair bore marks from his hands running through it. He nodded at his commander and winked at me. “I put it behind the desk, just in case. I had a feeling it was going to be a busy night.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“You weren’t in the right frame of mind for it. The last thing you needed was to work yourself up.”

“Thanks, I guess, I would prefer if you didn’t hide things from me. I might need to know.”

“You know now. We mages aren’t the most biddable Tristan. We do what we want. This kind of squad is rare, we’ve been burnt before. The last time we functioned like they do, well you know when that was.”

I nodded as he led me to the desk. The nobles’ kill teams. The dark days of the blood wars. High bloods fighting with mages doing the dirty work, a wonderful time in our national history. My sword was leaning against the desk just like he said it would be.

It had a sheath now, I looked to Lysan, a question on the tip of my tongue as I picked it up. I ran my hand of the intricate leather, each ridge and bump revealed to my touch.

“Yeah, its bad luck to carry a blade without a sheath. It’s the best I could do on short notice.”

The blade was too long to comfortably wear on my hip, but Lysan had thought of that. A collection of straps and buckles formed a harness to strap it over my shoulder, my coat might get in the way at the moment, but it would do for now. I could always alter my coat later after whatever was coming.

“Thank you Lysan.” I strapped on my sword checking it was loose in the scabbard and easy to draw, nothing caught.

“Least I could do after triggering you earlier. Didn’t expect you to be quite so sensitive.”

I smiled at that. “Not to worry, best I knew before battle, I feel fine now though.”

“You look better. I’ve always hated the price we pay.”

“It’s fair I guess. Everything has a price, it could be worse.”

“That it could. You ready?”

“I would be better prepared if I knew what we were facing.”

“Wouldn’t we all? The magic is whipped up into a frenzy, it’s almost boiling with energy. I’ve never known it so bad anywhere.”

“Everyone tells me Nelar is special, anything to do with that?”

“Could be, who knows. Information is a bit thin on the ground about this place. It’s almost as if… no never mind.” A look of confusion crossed his face before he dismissed it.

“Get your battle face on. At my reckoning we don’t have long before we will be going out the doors.”

“Anyone seen Brendon?”

“The god vessel? He was up on the roof, ready to pull down his Lord’s fire. The man gives me the creeps.”

“Why?”

“Sharing your head with an immortal, not for me.” Lysan shook his head as if to emphasise

“I don’t think he has all that much choice, he is just making the best of a difficult situation. He’s been a good ally to me.”

We walked over to the waiting men. The quiet was oppressive, all that could be heard was the tolling of the bell. The men were silent. Their grim gazes locked on their leader, a few looked at me before dismissing the thought that I was their commander. I didn’t have the years to command these men. I hadn’t earned their trust. At most I was a hindrance to these veterans of the blood wars.

A sense of isolation filled me. I was apart from them. I’d always been apart, except with Sophia and Lyphia. Jase had sent these men to bring me home. ‘Do your duty mage,’ Sophia’s angry words rang differently now. My duty might be here right now, but my true master was a little girl and a headstrong woman, both waiting for me. I owed it to them to get home. Maybe these men had families they needed to get home to as well.

I looked with fresh eyes at the mages – they had come for me. I wouldn’t let them down. I wouldn’t let anyone down. Not this time.

Telsan raised his arm, fist clenched.

The doors opened.

All around me, the men drew their weapons – swords and wands, mainly, though one had a massive axe.

I drew my own sword, the smooth stone singing like a clarion. The hilt was cool in my hand.

Into the night we marched.