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Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 3:56 am Post subject: Trengin's Tale - ODD Chapters 1-19
| Chapter 1: A friendly visit
After a busy night collecting, I finally made it home to a well deserved bed. Thoroughly drenched from the storm raging outside I resisted the whim to shake myself dry like a dog. I settled instead for dropping my collecting bag by the door and laying my cloak out over the back of a chair. Wearily I traced a small shape over the cape with one finger and steam obediently rose from it, quickly drying the heavy material.
With a sigh I collapsed in my favourite chair and grimaced at the empty fire-grate. A mental war quickly broke out: which was the least effort - standing up, fetching logs and lighting them; or levitating logs, and igniting them with magic? With an even larger sigh I remember the complications involved with levitating and forced myself back on my feet.
I quickly arranged several large logs in the open fireplace and then compromised. A flick of a wrist and I watch with some satisfaction as materialised flames immediately lick up the dry wood.
Settling back in my chair I closed my eyes and concentrated for one last time before I could finally get some sleep. Carefully and slowly I rotated both wrists, index fingers held out. In my mind I allows my influence to step out from my body and move away. In a painstaking manner my awareness moved in a circle around my house, stopping at my limit about 100 yards away. Satisfied that there was no aura of Sempa around I check the defences I had prepared. Nothing had been tampered with.
With a final sigh I open my eyes, and then promptly close them again, this time in sleep.
- ~ -
The next morning dawned bright and clear. The storm had cleared away the humidity that plagued the area for several weeks, before blowing itself out in the early hours. Water dripped from the many trees that circle the small house protectively; silent sentinels to the cloaked figure that made its way clumsily towards the front door.
Inside, warm from the still burring fire, I woke instinctively and stretched. Is it morning already? Within seconds I realised it was morning, but that wasn't what had woken me. Before I could get more details a sharp knock echoed on the door.
With a hand ready to activate defences, along with several offensive runes running through my mind, I opened the front door.
"Whoa, hold it Treng, it's just me, Roah, relax ok!"
The mage held up his hands, clearly aware that I was about to defend myself.
With some relief, and equal parts frustration at the unannounced visit, I relaxed and attempted a smile.
"Roah, whatcha doin' here, gave me a fright out my skin. Why didn't you send an announcement?"
"Because as you know, my paranoid friend, you have this place wrapped up so tight if I used even a wisp of magic I'd be toast before you'd finished snoring. Now how about inviting me in, or should I stay out here?"
"What do you want? I'm not joining you" I blurted out even as I opened the door wider for my visitor.
"So hostile, what makes you think I want something." Roah responded innocently, but the faint twitches of a smile around his eyes give away what I already knew.
"I'm not joining the group, if you can call it that. How many members do you have in your so called 'Circle' now anyway?."
Roah looked down, but then quickly bounced back with his usual enthusiasm.
"Well, only two yet, but you'd make three, and then we'd officially be a group. Although more of a triangle," he added with another grin.
Shaking my head I shuffled into the kitchen, muttering at their idoicy.
"Tea?" I offered.
"Thanks," came the swift reply, followed by a change of tact from my morning visitor. "So how you keeping?"
"As you can see, fine thanks."
"You don't fancy living somewhere a little more civilised?"
"'Tis safer here."
A twang of frustration entered Roah’s voice.
"Come on Treng, you know why I'm here. Sempa are appearing everywhere, and getting more organised. This isn't like before. We aren't seeing individuals, or small groups. Someone or something is beginning to organise them. We can't just hide any more.
"Why not?" I muttered stubbornly.
"People are dying Treng, not just a few either. Groups of Sempa are annihilating entire villages and towns."
"What can I do?"
"And what can a... triangle do?"
"Start a proper resistance, start fighting back. Ordinary soldiers have been trying across the continent since the beginning."
"Fools, they'd all get killed."
"And they have," Roah countered grimly. "But they are at least trying. It's only mages that have shied away from the problem, despite calls from the Capital for us to join the armies and help."
"And you think we few can make a difference? If I say no, you think your remaining 'Line' will?"
"Perhaps not, but if we take out just one Sempa, that's one less to hurt ordinary people. Plus, we can encourage more to join. Many others are still in hiding, and there's Emflikars everywhere."
He paused for a second.
"That's one of the reasons we want you actually. No one's come closer to becoming an Emflikar without it taking them than you. Maybe you could help restore them?"
"Bah, weak fools," I began
"That could swell our ranks massively if they could be brought back." Roah countered.
I shrugged my shoulders, and looked out the window in thought.
Click to skip the comments and go straight to Chapter 2
Decision point 1 :
Has Trengin been convinced?
He feels quite safe where he is, and is confident that danger won't find him. However, despite his demeanour the deaths cut him deeply, and he has nothing but hatred for the Sempa.
Please don't feel this is a forced decision point to make you all say 'go kick Sempa ass'.
"No he isn't convinced" is an entirely valid option ( I have plans :)). Another possibility is that Trengin might have some conditions on saying yes.
Discuss, and a poll will be up shortly.
This may be laughable in it’s optimism, but I’m going for ‘Featured Storygame’ rules here – i.e. a chapter a week – a poll goes up on Friday, closes on Sunday, and hopefully Chapter 2 next Tuesday.
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2005 10:19 am Post subject: Chapter 3: Decisions
| Chapter 3: Decisions
Having made my decision I turned back from the window and fixed a stare at Roah.
"I'm not going to join you. Something may have to be done, but what you are suggesting isn't it. You are too few, making too much noise and drawing far too much attention to yourselves."
"But.." Roah tried to interject, but I waved away his protests.
"No, my mind is made up. No quantity of good intentions makes your plans any wiser."
I busied myself making the tea, trying hard not to vent too much at my friend, but Roah suddenly stood up, anger plain on his face.
"How can you be so blind? They won't stop at burning towns. Do you think they'll wait for mages to rally against them before they seek out our deaths? They will hunt you out and kill you as they will me and all we know!"
"My mind is made up Roah, getting ourselves killed won't help," I repeated calmly after a deep breath. But the calm had the wrong effect on the usually jovial Roah and he made for the door.
"You can forget the tea, I'm clearly wasting my time."
He slammed the door as he left and I was left feeling unsure. I'd heard the odd rumour of sporadic attacks, but Roah made out that it was a continent wide war.
Tea forgotten, I moved to my chair and tried to organise my thoughts. They battled with those interjected by Roah as I tried in vain to reach the same clear decision I'd just made only moments ago.
I was quite safe here, I was certain of that. Nothing short of an attacking army would stand a chance of surviving the magics I'd laced the area with. Another thought, sounding disturbingly like Roah's voice, countered: Your defenses hadn't been tested.
"Damn him and his Circle," I suddenly yelled aloud to the air in frustration. "All I want is a quiet life," I added in a whisper.
A new thought appeared rebelliously in my head. No quiet life would find me whilst I didn't know what was happening. I had no choice. I had to go and see for myself.
Roah's angry departure filled me with an urgency and I busied himself for several hours preparing to leave. Living alone meant there was no one to tell of my departure, but also no one to look after my house. After locking the shutters closed against the weather, filling the log bin, removing any perishable food from the larder and a hundred other little tasks I was finally ready to go. Shuting and locking the front door I closed my eyes and performed one more check of my defences. After extending them to cover the house I opened my eyes, sighed and walked south out of the small glen I had called home for nearly a decade.
My dark blue cloak flapped violently around my simple mage robes in the brisk wind as I walked along the dusty road. Small stones picked up by the wind hit me sharply in the face every few seconds. After an hour of this irritating assault I waved my arms around in a wide sweeping gesture. A tiny shield appeared, encircling my face, like an invisible mask. An opening at the bottom meant it protected my face but still allowing me to breathe. Feeling a lot better I picked up the pace towards the nearest town, the best source for local gossip and information.
The road busied as I approached Etonreh. With a little over a half a league to go I had to resort to walking in the grass at the side of the road or risk being run over by the many carts and carriages. The wind had dropped and I'd eagerly let go of the shield protecting my face. Using any spell for a long time was tiring and always ran the risk (although small) of causing a mage to lose himself in the magic. I would become an Emflikar just the same as if I'd over indulged in pleasure magics.
During my journey my thoughts had idled around what Roah had said about Emflikars. Lost in their magic Emflikars weren't aware of anything; nothing penetrated the haze of bliss surrounding them. Many forgot to eat, or sleep, usually ending in death. The lucky ones passed out from exhaustion, ceasing their trance, but should they awake they would find the spark of magic burnt out of them.
It was true I'd had been closer to turning than anyone, but had saved myself at the last second before I'd forgotten my identity. None had ever been bought back with their magic intact. But what if they could? Roah was right, it would make a force to be reckoned with!
Jumping sideways to avoid a fast wagon, I vowed to investigate the possibility next time I saw an Emflikar.
A short time later the impressive walls of the town reared up from the horizon. Whilst Etonreh was nowhere near the size of the major cities, the walls wouldn't have been out of place if it were a city. Well over thirty feet high of solid stone, expertly laid to leave a smooth finish, they curved very slightly outwards towards the top. This made it much more difficult to be scaled and also easier for the defenders.
The defenders were well trained soldiers payed by the City Council to protect and police the city. It was a highly paid and respected job and most young boys in the town grew up with ambitions of becoming part of the guard when they came of age.
As I got closer I could see the distinctive helm and red and black uniform of the guards standing by the main gate. A small line of wagons and people awaited entry into the town, as the guards inspected their belongings. Any weapons were identified and distinguishing features noted in a large ledger by an administrator.
Joining the back of the line I listened to the small family of farmers in front. They were sat together on a large wagon, filled with various produce. A young man about twenty was talking loudly to his family, gesturing wildly. His mother and father listened intently, looks of horror on their faces.
"It's gone. All o'it. Notin' there but flies an' dead bodies."
"That can't be son, I were o'er in Frenquath just last week and it were busy as ever," what looked to be his father, cut in.
"I dids saw it Pa, wit' me own eyes. Marcus, he tried to make us go in, but I didn't wants to, so I stayed outside the walls. But I still saw it all."
I didn't hear anymore because at that moment a guard called the family forward for inspection, and another gestured toward me. I moved around the wagon and approached the young soldier.
"Any weapons to declare?"
"Nothing 'cept me wits."
"Ah - a smart mouthed mage - maybe I should call the Capt'n and make sure you ain't a spy."
I saw a vicious sneer appear on the guard's lips. This one clearly joined the guard for other reasons than to serve and protect. Knowing he could make things uncomfortable for me I decided to be more humble.
"Not required young man, I mean no harm."
"Sure, and I'm a mermaid. All mages are trouble and everyone knows it. If I hear of any magic trouble in the town while you are here I will hold you responsible. I'll tell the Captain and he'll take as much pleasure as I will in arresting you."
Knowing argument was pointless, despite itching to teach the impudent kid a lesson, I just nodded in agreement.
"I won't be any trouble Sir."
The 'Sir' had the desired effect and the guard smiled coldly. He lifted his arm and pointed through the gates.
"Get going then," he snapped.
Wasting no more time I walked straight past him and into Etonreh. If I had thought it busy on the road, then it was chaos inside. Organised chaos, I amended, as I watched the action. Shops, stalls and street vendors were everywhere, but there was still room for two wagons to pass in the wide streets. Frowning slightly at the crowds after my years of quiet isolation, I made my way up the main street. My thoughts were more on what the farmer's son had been saying than my direction.
Frenquath was only a score of miles away from here. If it had been as damaged as the boy made out then it must have been Sempa. Nothing else could have caused such extensive damage to the town, although they must have wielded some mighty forces to do it. Why it was only a little smaller than Etonreh! I needed to find out more about this attack, and quickly. How had the Sempa gotten so close without me hearing sooner?
With a jolt I looked up from my thoughts and found myself off the main street and in an alleyway. In contrast to the bustle of the street the alley was empty, apart from various bits of rubbish and debris. Looking around I tried to remember the shortest way out. A strange confusion clouded my mind, and I felt lost. A mental alarm rang out and I suddenly realised I'd been duped by magic. Closing my eyes and gesturing quickly I released a spell to clear my vision. The veil lifted and once again I could see the end of the alleyway and the street beyond.
Behind me I heard the clattering of feet. I spun around quickly and saw a dark figure frantically running away. Alarm flooded my mind again and I quickly felt my pockets. It had gone. The small amulet that would prevent pickpockets had been helpful in the past. The magic would confuse the thief into stealing nothing but the amulet. A minute after the theft the amulet would cause the thief to vomit uncontrollably and it'd also sends up a fountain of coloured sparks to attract attention.
Adrenaline made my thoughts fly through my mind as I frantically tried to think what to do. My intuition told me that the mugger wasn't a mage, just a common thief. The magic that had clouded my mind wasn't generated from a spell, but from some talisman. Maybe the mugger had another, but again I doubted it. Magical talismans weren't exactly common.
If the pickpocket got away then the anti-theft amulet would cause a magical disturbance in front of many people. The snide guard at the gates would hear of it and have me arrested for 'disturbing the peace'. Could I risk more magic to try and stop the thief leaving the alley before the amulet did its work? It might stop the effect being noticed, but aiming would be hard and if I missed the spell could hit someone in the street causing even more problems. Maybe I could just leave the town now?
Skip the discussion and move straight to Chapter 4
Trengin is in a spot of bother. A strange mugger with unknown magical abilities has taken an amulet from Trengin that will cause a major problem if the guard hears of it.
He needs to get on and find more about what happened at Frenquath - can he afford the wasted time getting arrested?
Many options are available to him...perhaps one for the near future might be to get some clothes that don't highlight him as a mage.
Maybe he's heard enough, and will try and contact Roah?
Let's hear some ideas...
Pics: Trengin and Road
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2005 10:29 pm Post subject: Chapter 5: News and Options
| Chapter 5: News and Options
There was more to learn in this town. I needed to stop him.
Arms raised, I gestured a spell I hadn't needed for many years. I aimed as carefully as I could and watched as its rolling form erupted from my fingertips and sped towards its target like mist. My hands gestured again, forming a strange coil like shape, and a straight bolt of energy shot after the first spell.
Both collided with the pickpocket at the same time. The first rendered him immobile; the second twisted around him and then pulled him back toward me as if on a piece of elastic. Within seconds his paralysed form landed face up at my feet.
His eyes showed he was awake only through the adrenaline pumping through his young veins as panic threatened to consume him. I reached quickly for his hands and pried them open, claiming the amulet back just in time. I quickly searched his pockets but found no trace of the talisman that must have been used to cloud my mind. Where was it? Had there been someone else involved?
"You there, what are you doing?"
The shout shook me from my thoughts. I looked up and saw a guard making his way towards me. As he climbed over the rubbish lining the alleyway I released the thief from his magical restraints with a quick concealed gesture. As he approached I held up my hands.
"This vagabond accosted me as I walked. I was just teaching him a quick lesson in unarmed combat," I explained.
The guard looked down at the scruffy urchin and seemed to forget himself as a smile came to his face.
"Maybe I could give a lesson or two myself."
Realising his lapse he looked up at me and composed himself.
"Ahem, well I'm glad you haven't been hurt, but I can take it from here. Best just call a guard if it happens again in case you are arrested yourself."
"My thanks Sir, I will do that. Could I trouble you for directions to an Inn where I might avoid such inconveniences?"
"The Golden Pheasant is a good one. The owner, Tunor, doesn't tolerate riff-raff."
"Head out the alley here, and take a left. Follow the street until you pass a candle maker. Take a right and you can't miss it."
"My thanks again."
I hastened out of the alleyway before the guard could notice my appearance and followed his directions. They were good and in short order I had found the inn. It looked clean and bright, and a large shadow by the door backed up the no riff-raff rule with muscle. The huge man stared at me as I went through the door but made no move to stop me. Emboldened I continued through.
Clearly the rule on clientele didn't effect business as I was greeted by an almost full room, every space available filled with a table or stool. Graceful waitresses deftly negotiated the maze of people, carrying impressive arrays of drinks without spillage.
A patron, clearly having consumed a considerable amount of those drinks himself, took advantage of the full arms of a passing waitress to pat her behind suggestively. She ignored him, but within seconds more dark shadows had peeled themselves from the walls revealing men of an equal size to the doorman. They seized and promptly picked up the drunkard and made their way through the parting crowd to the door I’d just entered. I moved aside to let them pass and watched as they unceremoniously threw him out the door. Riff-raff not tolerated indeed.
I took advantage of the parted crowd to quickly make my way to the bar. The gap closed behind me like water filling a dry waterbed and soon there was no indication anything had happened.
The landlord was tall but not as big as his guards. Dark hair showed no traces of grey and his eyes moved constantly across the room surveying all in his domain. Here was a man that knew his business.
“Excuse me, Tunor is it? I was hoping for a room tonight.”
He didn’t hear me over the noise of his patrons, but I repeated it louder and his eyes snapped to me. A quick judgement was made and a smile came to his face.
“I am addressed by someone that knows my name. Might I also have yours before any business is conducted?”
His manner of speech seemed excessively formal, but I fixed a similar smile on my face and replied.
“My name is Trengin, a local guard gave me your name and recommended this fine establishment.”
“Excellent, excellent. Yes I have many regulars from the guards come in here. Well welcome to the Golden Pheasant. I have a room available for three silver pieces, make it four and they’ll be a supper and something to break your fast in the morning.”
The price was expensive but I felt reassured by the protection he employed. “Four silver it is,” I agreed and handed them over from my limited funds.
He whisked them up from the counter with barely a noticeable movement and ushered me towards a door in the corner. I passed through and relaxed as the noise faded.
“Third door on your left. Would you like supper in your room or will you dine in the front?”
I winced at the idea of eating in the chaos but knew I would learn nothing sat in my room.
“I will freshen up from my travels and then head back out a little later.”
“As you wish Sir.”
He disappeared quickly into the haze of smoke and noise and I gratefully entered my room. It was clean and bright with a large window. I dumped my pack on the bed and opened the window. A fresh breeze wafted in and I breathed in deeply. It smelt faintly of spice mingled nicely with the general scent of the town. The sun was still a good distance above the horizon yet a desire for rest after my journey washed over me. I lay on my bed and was asleep in minutes.
I awoke a few hours later with the last vestiges of the sun just disappearing behind a slated roof. I felt better after the rest; alert and rested. After rubbing the last traces of sleep from my eyes I rinsed my face in the bowl of water on the side. I cast my hands down my robes and grinned as the road dust and creases faded. A nifty trick.
I headed back down to the main room and found it, if possible, even busier than earlier. I recognised many faces from before, along with a new crowd of people just finished work for the day. With amazement I noticed the drunkard from earlier laughing with a small crowd and pointing to the waitress across the room. Maybe security was more relaxed at night?
I forced myself around the room and eventually saw someone standing up to leave. With only seconds to spare I sat down in their vacated spot with some looks of annoyance from other standing patrons. They soon lost interest and focused back on their drinks. One of the efficient waitresses spotted me and I ordered a meal and a drink. She smiled and disappeared into the crowd.
Over the next two hours I learnt a fair amount just sitting there. Gossip was free and somewhere this crowded it was easy to go unnoticed as an eavesdropper. The destruction of Frenquath was on most people's lips. It was very recent news and unusual because there were no survivors. Stories were just coming in and the lack of witnesses meant details were sketchy and wildly exaggerated. I heard one man describe giants walking through the town smashing the buildings with their clubs. A woman said her niece had seen giant bats picking people up and devouring them on the wing. I knew I wouldn't be able to get accurate details without going there myself.
Other gossip was varied, and merchants had brought news of other towns being destroyed. The details were a little more believable but distance had warped them. Roah was right; this was more than a few disgruntled mages. Sempa don't organise themselves like this!
I heard a few mutterings about mages in general. I didn't hear one person mention a mage fighting against the Sempa, and quickly learnt there had so far been no successful attack or defence against them. No wonder mages were beginning to be feared. The only ones these people heard about anymore were Sempa. I looked down at my robes. Years living in the woods had required some alterations to them making them more practical. If the guards reaction was anything to go by though they were still recognisable as a mage's to an educated eye.
And then something caught my ear.
"Hit et wit' lightnin' and fireballs but it don't go through."
"Wow, what happened next?"
"Well, that's when Hunt told the archers to fire. They let loose thousan's of the things, filled the sky. And them mages just scarper'd into the woods and haven't bin' back since."
I didn't wait for the listener's response. I stood up and forced my way through to them.
"Where did this happen," I ask him urgently.
He looked at me shocked. He was a short man, a little off five feet but stocky and wearing quality clothing. A smile came to his face and he swayed slightly. He was drunk.
"Hey another eager listen'r to my story. Well I'll tell you. Grenton Bridge it is an' Captain Hunt is the man. Best soldier we've seen, finally show'd them mages we won't go down easy. Boy I'd like to have seen the look on their faces as they went runnin' away. Hahaha."
I left him to his drink and headed out the back towards my room. Was this why there wasn't more panic about an attack here? Who is this Hunt? How did he defeat Sempa? This was another mystery. I had heard of Grenton bridge, an old place a few days travel away. Indecision tore me. It was in the opposite direction to the remains of Frenquath.
I packed my things anyway. I felt rested, and wanted to be away from here before my robes were recognised. A night departure should make it simple enough to acquire some less obvious clothes and get away more easily. In just a few minutes my scant belongings were packed. I left the money for the room on the table by the bowl and went out the back of the inn into the street.
There was still a fair number of people around and some street traders taking advantage of the late trade. I spotted one selling clothing and decided to risk it. The store owner eyed me knowingly but made no comment as he wrapped the items I'd chosen. I paid him and briskly walked off.
I still didn't know what to do next. Lost in my thoughts I carried on walking, trying to decide which was the most likely to be helpful. The ruins would show me a great insight into how the Sempa attacked and what they were capable of, and if I got to them soon I might stand a chance of reading any residual magic before it dissipated. The bridge had been the only defeat for the Sempa. Logic said that they would attack it again soon, and with strength. Anything I might learn from Captain Hunt could be lost if I get there to find the bridge destroyed.
A nagging feeling stopped me where I was and brought me out of my thoughts. Rubbish lined the walls of the alley I was in. A second later I realised it was the same alley I'd been in just this morning. How? The feeling rose up again and I perceived the clouding of my mind. The culprit was close!
Clamping a shield over my mind, I gestured quickly and a hazy shield appeared around me. I turned around on the spot desperately looking for the attacker.
"Easy Trengin, no harm is meant. We just want a word with you."
I spun round to face the voice as its owner emerged from the shadows. His hand opened and a small light appeared illuminating his face.
"Srune? Is that you?"
"Yes my old friend. It has been some time. Please follow me and I shall explain the deception."
I let the shield drop and I smiled.
"What are you doing here?"
"I could ask the same of you," he laughed, "but I'd guess your answer is the same as mine."
"Yes, but lets not talk of them here."
He took on a look of secrecy and ushered me down a side alley that I hadn't noticed before. A few minutes later he had knocked three times on a wall and then pulled open a door that materialised. Impressed I followed him in.
"Trengin, he found you!"
I was stunned.
"Roah! Why are you here?" I turned to Srune. "He hasn't convinced you to join his Circle has he?"
Srune smiled. "Joined, hah, I co-created it."
I couldn't help but laugh as well. I took a seat by a merry fire and listened to Srune as he explained.
"I've been scouting around here trying to find things out whilst Roah's been out recruiting. After leaving your place he went to Goston and tried to recruit some Emflikar, and failed as expected."
"I was mad and wanted to cool off. I meant to go back to yours after I'd calmed down," Roah added. "Of course I got back to find you'd locked up and left. I didn't know where you'd gone and was in a bad mood. The damn emflikar was leaking magic and I almost got caught by it. Frustrated I hurried here to see how Srune had been doing."
"I've been monitoring magic use in the town," Shrune continued. "Looking out for any Sempa spies that might suggest an attack here. When I felt that pocket protector you keep I sent Bradley to go relieve you of it. I didn't know it was you, but after what you did to him I knew we had a mage in the walls."
I winced. "Is he hurt?"
Srune laughed, "No, just his ego. I told him what would have happened if you didn't take it back and that helped him forgive you."
I laughed in reply.
"I've had him scouring the town for sign of you, but it was luck that brought you past me as I was out scouting. I felt your talisman again and followed you. Thankfully you were so lost in your thoughts the mindcloud worked again and I got you here."
"Don't count on it working a third time," I retorted in mock protest. "Well I'm here now, and whilst I'm convinced what Roah told me is true I'm still not joining your Circle."
"Calm down old friend. Wait until you've heard all before jumping to conclusions. Roah came across some interesting news whilst on the way here from your house..."
"That I did. There's a caravan guarded by soldiers making its way here laden with books, scrolls and artifacts from a recent excavation in the south. The knowledge contained in this collection could be priceless to us. You may have heard of a recent victory against the Sempa at Grenton Bridge?"
I nodded in agreement, fascinated by what he was saying.
"Well that was brought about by knowledge gleaned from just one book found at this site. The leader of the force sent to claim the excavation site, someone called Captain Hunt, apparently read some of the findings and discovered the bridge had a shield that could be reactivated and protect from any magical attack. He immediately took a squad of men and managed to seize control of the bridge right under the Sempa's noses and activated the shield before they could retaliate. He's holed up there now."
"I heard about this. Is the shield really impervious to all magic!"
Srune cut in.
"We don't know its full capabilities, but that isn't the issue. The rest of this knowledge is making its way here. If it were to fall under Sempa control then any secrets it might have will be lost to us. It must be protected by magical means."
Realisation hit me.
"You two mean to defend it alone against who knows how many Sempa!"
Srune looked doubtful for a second.
"They don't know it's anything but an ordinary caravan. We only expect six Sempa."
"Six is more than enough to sort out the two of you."
"They've never had a mage attack them before. Reports have said that they don't even use shields in some cases - using all their energy to kill instead. Plus there is a large squad of soldiers protecting it, we could blend in and they wouldn't know where we were attacking from. It can work, especially if you join us."
Skip the discussion and go straight to Chapter 6
Trengin once again has the offer of joining the Circle available to him - he would help defend the caravan from a possible Sempa attack. Is it worth revealing The Circle and forever removing the element of surprise for the promise of great knowledge? Maybe the book about the bridge was the only useful one?
He could also go check out the ruins of Frenquath or go talk to Captain Hunt as he originally planned. Both those options could be lost very soon. Could he convince Roah or Srune to join him?
Maybe he could go to some further away cities to see how the Sempa attack in other places, or anything else you can think of.
What should he do?
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Thu Dec 08, 2005 5:04 am Post subject: Chapter 7: Convincing
| Chapter 7: Convincing
Doubt clouded my thoughts. Given this news Frenquath didn’t seem important anymore, but the bridge was still nagging me with questions. How had Hunt reactivated the shield? Just how powerful was it? What if the Sempa managed to take control of it?
I realised then that the last two questions could easily be asked about the caravan, and that had no magical shield to protect it. I would have to hope that Captain Hunt could hold the bridge; the risk to the caravan was too great.
"OK Srune, I'm convinced the caravan needs our help. I want to make it clear though." I swung round fiercely to face Roah. "This doesn't mean I've joined your Circle."
Srune was immediately at my side, a hand on my shoulder. "Calm down, we understand." Roah nodded his agreement. Srune continued, "More importantly we are glad of your help. Lets get to planning."
Two days later we were galloping as fast as we could on exhausted, foaming horses. Suddenly Srune reigned in to a walk; Roah and I did the same much to the delight of our respective carriers. The air was crisp and the ragged breathing of our horses the only sound. Up ahead began the forest we'd been heading to. A little over an hour away was a large clearing; an ideal camp site which we expected the caravan to choose to stay for the night.
Roah led his horse in first and I followed. We didn't need to talk, we'd planned everything we could and knew there was a chance Sempa spies could be in the woodland. We didn't want to be overheard. Srune followed behind, raising a small breeze behind us to abolish our tracks in the leaf litter. I urged my horse into a brief trot and pulled up along side Roah. With a nod he took my reins as I closed my eyes.
I gathered my power, and twisted a gesture with a finger against my palm. I sent it out, but the spell flickered and died. With some annoyance I repeated the gesture, adding a boost to it at an expense of more energy. Again I released the spell and this time it held. My consciousness glided out of my body and roamed around us, seeking any sign of hostile life. Briefly I considered how much easier it had been to do this when I was at home in familiar territory.
Without warning the spell exploded around me. My vision became a swirling mass of black. I spun round frantically trying to remember where my body was, but I could see nothing.
"Trengin, Trengin. Wake up, can you hear me?"
A warm tickle of power crept down my spine, and my eyes snapped open. Blurred forms hovered over me and I blinked to clear my vision. Slowly focus returned and I saw the anxious eyes of Srune and Roah to either side of me.
"I'm ok," I croaked. With a cough I sat upright and managed a much clearer voice. "What happened?"
"We were going to ask you the same thing! You suddenly screamed and it spooked your horse. Before Roah could stop it you'd fallen."
"Something interrupted my spell, my vision went black and I was lost from my body. The fall from the horse must have jolted me back."
"What caused your spell to do that?" Said Roah.
"I don't know, but it can't be good, and it must be close. I can't travel that far from my body."
"Did you see anything suspicious?" Srune asked.
"No, I was literally seconds away from coming back to report all clear when it happened. We should get moving though, we've wasted enough time here."
"Are you ok?"
I bent my legs to stand and immediately felt the bruise where I'd landed from my fall. It'd be stiff and sore the next day, but I'd be ok. Carefully I got to my feet.
"Everything seems to be ok."
"Are you sure," Roah persisted.
I managed a weak smile, and did a little dance with much protest from my behind.
"Yes I'm sure, nothing but a bruise."
They didn't seem convinced, and after we'd remounted I took the lead, leaving them to watch me worriedly from behind. I didn't attempt to scout again, but we made it to the clearing without any more trouble.
Over a mile across it rose gently to a small peak in the middle, a small scattering of low-lying bushes here and there in the grass. Tree sentinels stood all around looking both protective and intimidating; the place was deserted. A small stream wound briefly out of the trees along the northern side, providing an ample water supply. This really was an ideal camping ground for a considerable number.
"Ok let's get set up over there, near the edge of the water. We'll be out the way but close enough to react."
I nodded my agreement with Srune and we made our way over to the stream's bank. Our horses gratefully started drinking before turning their attention to some serious grazing. With their needs sorted after the exhausting journey we turned to our own comforts. In short order a three-man tent was erect and a fire pit excavated. Roah walked briefly into the woodland returning swiftly followed by a line of firewood obediently floating behind. At a gesture they arranged themselves artfully in the pit and then ignited into a cheery fire. Srune completed the task with a protective ring of stones. As the last rock floated into position the sound of horses echoed across the clearing.
"Watch it, scouts have arrived," I announced.
We all spun round to face the small group. They approached with nervous looks and arrows nocked in bows. Immediately we held our hands up and faced our palms behind us in the accepted gesture of peace from a mage. Srune took the lead.
"Welcome Gentlemen. You're right on time. When will the caravan get here?"
The middle soldier spoke up, a crest on his armour signifying his rank above the others. He was young, maybe a score and a half years at most. A thin beard decorated a face that looked at the three men in front of him like they were a nest of vipers. Of course we were far more dangerous.
"Who are you, and how do you know about the caravan." He barely held the tremor in his voice, remarkable given the usual response from a Sempa challenged in this way.
"My name is Srune. My friends here are Roah and Trengin. As you have no doubt noted we are all mages, however we mean no harm, quite the opposite in fact."
Doubt and worry stormed across the lieutenant’s face. Srune kept up the verbal distraction before the wrong decision was made out of fear.
"We understand your company is escorting a most valuable caravan. We believe you are likely to be attacked by Sempa, and have come here to offer our services in protecting you as best we can."
I noticed a slight relaxation of the eyes, but it wasn't for long. They had heard too many stories, and had too many comrades die from Sempa attacks to be put at ease so easily.
"You will need to talk to the Captain, and I'll need to restrain you until he arrives. I can't promise he won't have you executed, mages aren't to be trusted anymore and everyone knows none of them help."
"We're the first, as far as we know. Of course we'll speak with your Captain. If you tie our hands behind our backs with palms facing outwards will be as incapacitated as you can get us without knocking us out."
Srune ended with a large grin, trying desperately to prove our good intentions. There was no real way to prevent a conscious mage from casting a spell but with our hands behind our backs we wouldn't be able to complete the stronger spells, or aim very well. It was the best we could offer. There are a number of plant-based concoctions that can render a mage incapable of casting spells in a variety of ways, but all of them would last too long and be dangerous if the Sempa attacked before they wore off. Thankfully the soldier seemed happy with the offer and ordered several of his men to dismount and bind us as directed. He also sent one scout back to inform his superiors.
Once complete we were seated around our fire under guard, all of them avoiding eye contact with us. Clearly Srune hadn't convinced everyone yet. The lieutenant and two of his men circled the clearing on horseback. They arrived back and it was obvious they had come to the same conclusion; it was a great place to camp.
We waited in silence for an hour before finally hearing the faint thumping of the many men and horses accompanying the caravan. A few minutes later the first soldiers emerged from the tree on the east side. The scout that had ridden back was in the lead and he led the procession to our small camp. Several hundred men came first, followed by the first wagon of the caravan. Eight more wagons came next, each with a score more soldiers ringing them. Finally came more soldiers. They gathered in the middle of the clearing, efficient troops already setting about making a camp complete with basic defences. A group of horse riders broke away from the line and approached our fire. A few feet away the front riders peeled away to the sides revealing a highly decorated man atop a fine black horse. Burnished steel armour shone in the late afternoon sun, rising up to a dark haired man of middle years. Whether it was good for us or not he had a smile on his face.
"Well this is a sight I didn't expect. The first mages caught in this war, and by scouts. Higher command is going to be pleased."
As one we turned to the scout that had ridden off to tell the main group about us. He had clearly not believed us like the lieutenant had, and his report was clearly biased against us. Srune's face went red with anger, but thankfully before he could do anything to make the situation worse the lieutenant spoke up.
"Sir, I don't believe they mean us harm."
The Captain turned his gaze to his subordinate and they younger man swallowed hard.
"Oh yes and what makes you think that."
"I'm not sure what Johnsen reported to you, but they gave themselves up peacefully, and told us they intend to help protect us should Sempa attack. They even assisted us with the best way to tie them up."
As he finished speaking his gaze flickered to the scout he'd sent off to report. I saw annoyance there for a second; perhaps there was a chance yet. His eye returned to his Captain's, unwavering despite his nerves.
"This contrasts highly with the original report. I was told a small group of Sempa were caught unawares. I admit I was surprised that it had been so easily and without loss."
He turned to the hapless scout.
"Johnsen, you will explain yourself later. Dismissed."
The scout saluted haughtily and stalked off. The Captain turned to us once again.
"You've made an impression on my lieutenant. Trusting a mage isn't done lightly these days. If it's true then it truly is a marvel. For many months we've petitioned for a mage escort, but none have responded. Why now?"
Again Srune spoke on our behalf.
"Our thanks Captain for listening to reason. I fear the reason for none of my kind assisting is through fear. We have been reduced to hiding because of the fears from the populace, and for risk to our own lives from the Sempa. We three have decided it is time to stop hiding and start fighting back."
I almost choked on this, but managed to control myself. He continued.
"We hope to win more to our cause, but for now we are few. The Sempa have managed to seem invincible so far, maybe if we can dispute that claim more will join us. We believe this caravan is a good place to start."
The Captain nodded.
"I suppose the eight wagons of ancient magic writings have something to do with it," he said shrewdly.
Srune reacted well and laughed.
"Haha, quite true Captain, we did hope, should our defence prove adequate, we might have chance to browse through the collection, but for more reasons than professional interest. If there are more details of places like the bridge then it is vital that the Sempa don't gain such knowledge. It is to prevent that outcome that supersedes any other reasons."
Again the Captain nodded. Srune was doing well.
"Captain Hunt saw such a threat as well. We have as much protection as we can spare, and as you can see against normal forces we have quite sufficient numbers to repel an attack, but against Sempa we have no chance. Our current orders are to protect the caravan long enough for the contents to be destroyed should an attack happen. We don't intend to let them have this knowledge."
I was impressed, as was Srune.
"That is certainly brave Captain. You have our highest respect for what you do. It is our aim to avoid that, but should such an event be required we could destroy the wagons in a heartbeat, and hopefully keep most of your men alive in the process."
"Ok, I've made my decision."
We all looked at him patiently.
"I am going to trust you to your word. However, I cannot know that you aren't Sempa spies trying to infiltrate the camp knowing we would sooner destroy the caravan than give it up. You will go nowhere near the wagons until either any Sempa attack is defeated or we arrive safely to our destination. Men will be in place with torches ready to destroy the wagons should any of you approach too close. You understand my worries."
Relief washed over me. Finally we could get on with this. Srune replied for us.
"We certainly do. Obviously trust has to be earned, and sadly no mage has done anything to deserve it in many years, and much has been done to lose it. Hopefully this can mark a change."
For the final time the Captain nodded, and then gestured to two mounted guards flanking him.
I spoke up.
"There's no need Captain. There really is no way to keep a mage captured whilst he is still conscious. We meant no falsehood, our current restraints are the best you could do, but ultimately futile."
There was a slight hum to the air and each of us parted the ropes binding us. Rubbing my wrist even though they weren't sore, I rose to my feet. Surprisingly the Captain laughed.
"Haha, 'tis good to know. Men, be sure to knockout any Sempa you capture."
We laughed along with him, but then Srune turned serious for a second.
"There is probably a lot we could teach you about mage weaknesses that may help your men if they are lucky."
The Captain sobered immediately.
"You're right, there is much to discuss. Let's go and do that over some hot food."
Looking behind him we saw that the camp was established, and several large cook fires were already blazing. They certainly were efficient. We mounted our horses, it was only a short walk, but the Captain was mounted and it was awkward walking along side. At the Captain's command we all headed to the top of the small rise in the middle of the clearing. The Captain's tent was huge, doubling as a command tent during the day. We all dismounted and headed to the entranceway flanked by two guards. Before even the Captain had entered, the encroaching night was pierced by a scream, followed swiftly by a trumpet call.
Cries of "ATTACK" immediately rang our around us, and the Captain spun round on his heels. I too turned around, frantically searching for the cause of the alarm. I didn't have to wait long as a huge ball of flame erupted from the south side, flying swiftly into the sky in a lazy arc.
The cries immediately turned to panic, "SEMPA ATTACK".
The fireball rushed towards the ground. It would land amongst a heaving mass of soldiers running to their positions. My hands shot up, instinctively going to dissolve the fireball when Srune's voice cut through the din.
"Trengin no, they'll know we are here. We have to stop the soldiers from destroying the caravan."
Time slowed, and I looked quickly from the fireball to Srune's face. I noticed the Captain shouting out orders everywhere. Roah was looking in horror at the fireball, his own hands partially raised as well. What was I going to do?
Skip discussion and go straight to Chapter 8
Ok people, a tricky situation for Trengin. We don't know how many Sempa are attacking. We presume 6 and were hoping to take out 3 to even the odds before they realise we are there and start shielding. Any more than one-on-one and we will be struggling.
The Captain hasn't had time to countermand his orders to destroy the caravan yet; soldiers will soon be running towards it with fire torches. Meanwhile the fireball is about to impact in the middle of a lot of soldiers - killing them all meaninglessly.
What should Trengin do? Should he stop the fireball? Could he come up with some way of disguising their attempt to stop the fireball? One-way might be moving all the men out the way (it wouldn't be gentle but they'd live).
Should he instead go straight to the wagons to protect them, or should he use the time to tell the Captain to prevent the destruction of them so he can do something else.
Maybe instead he should immediately take the attack to the Sempa? Or even run away?
The choice is yours...
Apologies, I couldn't find any pictures I liked for this chapter.
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 9:46 am Post subject: Chapter 9: First fight back
| Chapter 9: First fight back
Roah dropped his hands back down again and looked at Srune. I saw the importance of maintaining our surprise but I wasn't going to let the Captain see us simply allow his men to die.
My hands continued moving in a simplier gesture, my gaze now directed at the men below the fireball. I cast it out and pulled my arms outwards. In the distance man and horse alike were thrown sideways by the walls I had cast. Seconds later the fireball crashed into the now empty grass.
I spun round to Srune who was talking urgently with the Captain. I saw him cast something and suddenly the Captain's voice boomed out over the noise of the soldiers.
"SIT 100*: SEMPA ATTACK POSITIONS, ENGAGE ENEMY AT WILL"
I was pleased to see that despite the shock at hearing their Captain's voice over the din the soldiers, they were quick to react. Within a few seconds a storm of arrows flew into the air following the reverse path of the fireball before pounding into the fringe of the woodland where it had originated.
"Trengin, we need to take some of them out now so the Captain can announce us to his troop. Can you seek them?"
I winced at the idea of seeking in such a distracted situation but nodded grimly. A roar behind me announced the retaliation of the Sempa. Three more fireballs rose up from further along the edge of the woodland.
The archers were much faster and before the fireballs had reached halfway they had fired. This time though the arrows flickered and burnt, turning to ash in seconds.
"TRENGIN SEEK NOW," Srune all but screamed.
Ignoring the fireballs I closed my eyes and tried to find my focus. Clutching at it I threw my presence out across the field. The fireballs hadn't moved much. I made it to the woodland edge and felt for a presence. There, moving back to where they'd fired the first fireball. Six of them, still unshielded.
My eyes opened and I shuddered slightly to be back within the confines of my body. It passed as quickly as usual and I watched as Roah and Srune replicated my original plan of moving the soldiers away rather than so clearly displaying our presence.
Srune turned back to me.
"There's six of them, moving back to the original position, and still unshielded. They either don't know we are here or are woefully arrogant."
"I have an idea," I said. He must have seen something in my eyes because he asked no questions but just nodded again.
"Be ready to shield as many people as you can, this is likely to annoy them," I added.
A final nod and I moved in front to see my target. Srune and Roah immediately flanked me. Five fireballs rose up from the woodlands again, now a deep red in colour to appear more dangerous. This time the soldiers would have to fend for themselves. It was time to let the Sempa know we were there.
I closed my eyes again, although only to help concentration than through any need. My hands began the long series of gestures that I'm sure no other mage had ever seen before. Living in my forest for so long had offered me much time for experimentation and I had had little else to practice on but the trees themselves.
As I completed the first rune I sent it out and immediately felt myself connected with the living essence of the trees. A thousand voices sang to me of the air and earth. I slightly lost myself in the hauntingly beautiful sound but kept hold through experience.
I completed the second and sent it out. The song became lounder as the essence began to surrender to my control. Again I battled not to lose myself in the sound, using my magic to exert control.
Screams erupted around me as the fireballs hit their target for the first time. As I began the third part of the spell I peeked my eyes open and saw that Roah was staring at my hands in amazement despite the carnage around him. Inwardly I smiled. He'd seen nothing yet.
I flung out the final rune and felt the moulding begin. Immediately I sent my sight out again to witness and finetune the result. My vision flew to the treeline and quickly found the group of Sempa. They were grinning and laughing, pointing to the distant soldiers. One flicked a wrist and I knew another hail of arrows had turned to dust.
With a clear view of my targets I activated my control and mentally snatched the closest mage. A tree branch next to his head shot downwards at my command and collided with his head in an instant.
His body collapsed as his head caved-in but I didn't waste time watching his death. Another tree swiped a low branch sideways at impossible speed decapitating a Sempa who had just turned around to witness his companion's death.
The four remaining mages reacted, and hands flew in a blur as they attempted to shield themselves from the unknown attack. As their shield shimmered into view one mage stumbled backwards over a root that shot up from the ground and I took this chance to even the odds.
A frantic extra gesture from myself boosted my control and two trees struck out simultaneously at the falling mage. The first hit heavily on the edge of the shield causing the other mages to wince at the sudden impact and distracting them long enough to allow the second tree to squash its victim into the ground. Roots twisted over the bodies like worms as they dragged them into the soil. Within a few seconds all three dead mages had disappeared and the remaining Sempa stared at the trees from behind their shield in horror.
I used the last of my control to strike pointlessly at the shield, but they didn't wince this time. One, who seemed to be more composed than the others (probably the squadleader) raised his hands and the offending tree exploded.
I felt the pain leach into my mind. The song turned to the anguish of a thousand connected lives feeling the loss of a brother. With a final effort I severed my connection, returned to my body and opened my eyes.
Srune's eyes pierce mine as I gained awareness again.
"What, by the Gods, did you just do?"
I looked about. We were clear of anyone for a good twenty meters all around, the grass scorched to the edge. Soldiers stared at us in a mixture of awe and fear. The Captain stood at the edge also looking disturbed. I turned to Roah who just stared in fascination.
"We had to shield ourselves from you, I've never seen so much power handled by one mage."
I gathered my wits and grinned.
"I took three of them out. There's three more, shielded, but I scared them good."
Srune's mouth fell open, but he quickly composed himself.
"Ok, no more hiding then. Let's get this over and done with. Three on three is odds I'm happy with and we have an army on our side as well."
He moved over to the Captain and once again his voice boomed out.
"SIX SEMPA ATTACKED, NOW THERE ARE ONLY THREE. WE HAVE MAGES ON OUR SIDE AND WE CAN SURVIVE THIS. OFFICERS RALLY TO ME."
Officers seemed to spring from nowhere and the Captain busied himself doing what he did best. By the time Srune had returned to us they had disappeared to follow his orders.
"Ok - like we planned then. Let's finish this," Srune said with a grim smile. Despite the success so far, more men would die this day.
Roah's arms moved in mirror image to Srune's and a glimmering shield appeared over our head. Rather than the usual dome like shield it stretched out like a protective sheet. Without the need for a wall shield from physical attacks like arrows from the Sempa it allowed us to cast two shields instead. It stretched for nearly thirty metres in every direction.
At their officer's encouragement a unit of troops circled us, some happy to be under the protective shield, but most nervous at being so near magic users. Trust would have to be hard earnt with some.
Once ringed we moved forward closer to the Sempa for a more direct assault. The air was littered with arrows as wave after wave were fired into the trees. Every now and then a small patch of them would disintigrate but nothing else.
We hadn't moved much further than a few steps when shouts around us indicated the Sempa had emerged. Looking down from the slight height advantage we had I could see them walk out almost casually in a classic protective huddle. Arrows burst into flame at contact with their walls and shield.
Suddenly flames erupted from both sides and brave soldiers that had run towards them were instantly incinerated.
Srune's palm was thrown forward and a bright arc of blue light flew from him, leaving behind a glittering trail. Faster than an arrow it streaked into the Sempa's shield and struck in a dazzling explosion. The light faded showing no discernable difference to the Sempa but soldiers all around us immediately cheered at the first clear display of magic on their side.
All three Sempa released runes and lightning shot down in a dozen places across the clearing. Death screams replaced the cheers and suddenly battle was on us. Roah cast out his palm and two retalitory lightning bolts struck the shield of the Sempa at the same time as another burst of blue light left Srune. I saw to my right that a group of cavalry had managed to ride around the clearing and were now approaching them from slightly behind, heavy spears ready to be thrown. One of the Sempa, the tallest of the three, noticed them and turned around, bringing hands up ready to strike.
I motioned to Srune and he nodded quickly in understanding. The cavalry as one threw their spears and they shot towards the Sempa. We released a spell and the spears sped up, burning towards their target like shooting stars. As the cavalry peeled away from their charge the Sempa released his attack. Half of them erupted in flames as the spears hit the shield. This time there was some reaction, all three mages fell to the ground under the impact. The distraction caused the shield to waver and the final spear fell through and struck the tall Sempa through the middle. As the other two came to their feet and re-established the shield he stayed on the ground and quickly lay still.
Srune recognised the right moment and gestured towards the Captain. On cue he bellowed out an order that, once again, all could hear.
The entire field shook as every last soldier screamed a battle cry and charged at the remaining two Sempa. Roah and I released large fireballs that arced over the top of the mass of running men and smashed into the shield. Srune quickly followed up with twin lightning bolts.
As the first soldiers reached the shield and started ineffectively swiping at it with their swords the squadleader snarled and cast his palm out. A line of flames rose up around them and moved outwards in a semi-circle. As soon as a way back to the woodlands opened up the pair of Sempa dashed off with the soliders unable to persue through the wall of fire.
With a curt command from Srune the soliders around us moved forwards and we got close enough to counter the firewall but by the time it hissed out under our magical onslaught there was no sign of the Sempa. I closed my eyes one more time and quickly found them fleeing.
A concussion to the air and my vision went black.
*Sit 100 specifies a non-standard attack, which amongst other things will prevent the distruction of the caravan.
Skip the discussion and go straight to Chapter 10
Ok - I hope you enjoyed that. You've finally got some measure of what the good guys are capable of. :)
Something has just happened to Trengin though, so the decision point goes to Srune and Roah. Trengin has just collapsed for no apparent reason. What do they do?
Do they stay with the Captain, hoping that he'll come round on his own, and maybe find something useful in the caravan in the meantime. Do they abandon the Captain and strike out immediately for the nearest town and a healer? Do they do something else?
Any comments about the writing, plot or general questions are also welcome.
Please discuss here...
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Tue Jan 31, 2006 8:41 am Post subject:
|Chapter 11 : A lost mind.
Srune caught Trengin as he fell, more from reflex than any intention. Soldiers were milling around on the edge of the woodland, looking back at the mages with a mixture of confusion and awe.
Srune managed to catch Roah's attention.
"Trengin's out again," he whispered.
"What do we do?"
"Let me think for a moment."
Srune didn't get time to think before one of the soldiers, a lieutenant by the insignia, bravely approached the trio.
"Erm...Sir, your orders?"
Srune met his gaze and spoke without pause.
"Pick out a half dozen of your best trackers and follow those Sempa. Understand what I'm saying when I say BEST trackers - anything less and they'll just end up dead."
The soldier nodded, although a question clear on his lips.
"What is it Lieutenant?"
"Sir, are you not going after them yourself?"
"I would soldier, but as you can see one of us is unconscious, leaving the odds one-on-one. Plus it's more important to me to get this caravan and everyone with it safely to Etonreh as soon as possible. We can't afford the delay."
The lieutenant saluted smartly and marched off, gathering men around him almost as effectively as the Captain earlier.
Srune turned to Roah and looked down at Trengin.
"We need to get him somewhere more comfortable and looked over. If it's like last time then he should be around again in a few minutes, but it's not worth the risk."
-- ~ --
The darkness seems to float by. Images flitter into view but are gone before recognition can begin. I am soaring through nothingness at incredible speed or am I unmoving as everything passes me by?
I am one of many, or am I many as one? So many images, too confusing.
The darkness changes. A shade of black that seems red. I and many are angry, so very angry. Damn complacent fools. Four of the Chosen dead! Who did this to us? How did this happen?
The answer is there, I know the answer but don't know.
Where am I?
-- ~ --
"I'm sorry but I don't know what else to try! His body appears to be doing nothing more than sleeping, but it's almost like his mind isn't there."
Srune sighed in frustration. He was gathered around the prone form of Trengin along with Roah, the Captain, and the field healer.
"He was seeking out the remaining Sempa when he blacked out, and it happened before when we were travelling to join you. If his mind is trapped outside his body, then doing anything could be worse."
"Can either of you, erm.. I mean," the Captain stumbled over the unfamiliar concepts. "That is I mean, can't either of you 'seek' out his mind and guide him back?"
Srune looked thoughtful for a few seconds, but it was Roah that replied.
"Good thoughts Captain, and if either of us could Seek or knew anything about it I'd give it ago, but as far as I know, no one else but Trengin knows how to do it. Something he discovered himself."
Srune moved to Trengin's side and placed a hand on his forehead.
"On the way here he was seeking every hour or so and I watched him. I don't think I could do it, but..."
Srune closed his eyes and concentrated.
-- ~ --
A man is stood before me. One of the Sempa. He's talking...no he's reporting. I'm his master, he's mine to control. His mission is a success. A prisoner brought forward. Faces I recognise but I don't know who?
My attention is drawn by a faint light far away. Many of us turn to this but I tell them not to worry. I will investigate. Many go away and question the prisoner instead.
The light is nearer now. Am I moving closer or is it? Just a bit further and I'll know, just a bit further and I'll find out. It's hard to move now, the darkness is thick and clawing at me.
A name is coming from the light, something I should recognise but I can't remember. I long for it.
The light envelops me.
-- ~ --
I opened my eyes with palpable relief. Faces come into focus; Srune, Roah, the Captain.
"W...what?" I croaked.
Roah's voice hammered through my mind and I closed my eyes against the sound. The flowing darkness seemed to reach up for me and with a gasp I snapped them open again immediately.
"Hello?" I managed weakly. Srune looked very tired but he smiled as I tried to collect my thoughts. I managed a little more strength.
Before anyone could answer my mind managed to grasp the final minutes of memory I had before passing out. We'd won, the Sempa were retreating. Needed to chase them, where are they?.
"I was seeking again, passed out didn't I? How long was I out?"
Roah swallowed what he was about to say and nodded instead.
"It's approaching midnight, you've been unconscious for half a day!"
-- ~ --
For the next hour we went over and over the event trying to work out what happened.
I discovered that the white glow was something to do with what Srune had done - a fascinating addition to my knowledge of this new area. Somehow he'd drawn my interest like a moth to a flame, although he told me that he never got any impression it was working until my eyes had opened.
This information woke other memories of the darkness. I remembered seeing images although no details. I speculated that my mind was lost, wandering around after whatever happened to me. I doubted I would have found my body again if it hadn't been for Srune.
He detailed what he'd done, opening himself as he'd seen me do earlier and calling my name in his mind over and over. I immediately remembered hearing a voice saying something, but that hadn't been enough. The words had been meaningless. It was the light that had been compelling enough to make me strive to reach it. Srune didn't know what the glow was, so I was once again forced to speculate. Using my own body as a conduit to call out to me was the best conclusion I could draw. In the end we decided to study the matter at length once we reached Etonreh again.
By the time the conversation was over I was feeling much better again. I'd even dared close my eyes and was much relieved to discover no trace of the clawing darkness. With a little assistance from Srune I made it to my feet and out the tent, the Captain and Roah just behind.
Despite the hour a large group of soldiers were gathered around and at sight of us let out a huge cheer. The Captain immediately stepped to join his men and his own cheer rose up with their voices. As it faded away the Captain spoke.
"My men have just shown our huge appreciation for your most timely intervention, but let me more formally add that we are without words to describe what this means for the future. Suddenly a light appears at the end of a very long tunnel, one that has been dark for too long. However, there are plenty of politicians who are much better than me at the fancy speeches. Know simply that you have our thanks, and my trust."
I was dumbstruck, as were Roah and Srune. As usual though Srune was quick off the mark and stood forward to respond. Without his support I wobbled briefly, but kept my feet as his voice rose so the gathered could hear.
"Captain, our thanks go to you and your men too. Their efficient and skilful work made our job much easier and their courage was inspirational. It was a pleasure to finally stand up and make a difference with such honourable company. It is our hope that this is but the first step of a renewed co-operation between soldier and mage against this common enemy."
More cheering started, and as it carried across the clearing other soldiers were woken up and quickly informed by those near to them what was going on.
"We still have a job to do though," the Captain shouted over the din with his usual authority. "This caravan won't see itself to Etonreh. They'll be chance enough for celebrations then. We move on at first light."
As if it a commandment from the gods the soldiers moved off to sleep or guard duty. I turned to the others with the intention of moving off to our camp if it was still in tact but the Captain called out to us.
"I meant what I said you know."
I turned back to him.
"You have my trust. How'd you like an introduction to my caravan leader!"
"You mean...?" I'd spoken before I'd even finished framing the thought.
"That's right," he replied grinning. "It's a week until we make it back to Etonreh, don't want you guys twiddling your thumbs. Follow me."
As we walked Roah nudged me gently in the ribs, a schoolboy grin on his face. I couldn't help but mimic; his enthusiasm for the ancient works a mirror of my own.
Skip to Chapter 12
No decision point here, but the chapter was dragging and I didn't want to force one.
However there are a few things ripe for discussion.
- Is Trengin a part of the Circle now? Has he been convinced enough by the actions and events so far that something must be done, and that the Circle is crucial to such plans?
- Is he still in a position to go his own way once they reach Etonreh?
- Would he want to?
- Where might he go?
- What might the images he saw mean?
- Any other issues for Trengin ?
I think that once they get back to Etonreh these thoughts will become a crucial factor in what happens next, so use this week's discussion to get your opinion voiced.
Thanks for reading. :D
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Tue Feb 28, 2006 9:15 am Post subject:
The lone rider almost fell from his horse, but a guard ran up to assist him and he managed to keep his feet. So much was his hurry that next his thick travel cloak caught in the saddle and yanked him back. This time he fell, dragging the heavily mailed guard down with him. Loud curses followed but they finally managed to disentangle the cloak and themselves and make it up the steps into the main hall.
With some relief the guard left the rider and returned to his post, shaking his head and straightening his armour as he went. Meanwhile the rider took several deep breaths and tried to force his body to obey for just a few minutes more.
He walked briskly down several corridors; his legs strangely angled after his several days in the saddle; and knocked sharply on the ornate doors at the end. It opened almost immediately and he was ushered inside.
"What news do you bring? Is the caravan safe?" The voice was deep and authoritative.
The rider took one more deep breath and replied, his words gushing out in his eagerness, spilling over each other and making little sense.
"Get the man a drink," the voice interrupted and a goblet of red wine was thrust into the rider's hand. His eyes spoke his thanks and he visibly relaxed as he drank deeply and swallowed with a sigh.
"Thank you Sir, I needed that."
"That's ok Messenger. Your report?"
"We got attacked by six Sempa a few miles before we made it out Gellneth Forest Sir..."
The General looked disappointed and cut in. "Please tell me the caravan was destroyed before they got their filthy hands on it."
"I was about to add Sir, that moments before the attack we came across three other mages who claimed to be there to work against the Sempa and protect us. Captain Rosten spoke to them and came to some agreement with them."
"They were probably spies, did the Captain explain the agreement to you?"
"No Sir, but I saw them with my own eyes. They killed four of the Sempa. Great fireballs came towards us, and before they could hit, the men were just moved out the way. Either that or the fireballs dissolved in the air above us…"
The rider’s eyes were wide open, and his hands animated as he tried to explain events far beyond his experience. Despite that he didn't embellish the details, the truth quite amazing enough without. He went through the whole battle, and spoke of the strange affliction that struck down one of the mages and his later recovery.
"…Even now they are travelling back with the caravan in case there's another Sempa attack."
The General had remained quiet throughout the rest of the report, his own eyes hiding any emotion.
"So, more have joined our cause," he whispered to himself. The rider perked up at the sound but didn't make anything out.
"Great job Messenger, you have done very well bringing me this news so swiftly. This battle was only the night before last you say. A day and a night from Gellneth Forest is swift travel indeed. Tell the barracks commander that you are relieved of duties for two days and to be given double rations. Rest and recuperate."
A broad grin spread across the rider's face, but sagged a little as he realised just how tired he was. The General noticed and dismissed him. He saluted, ran forward to leave a written version of the report on a desk and left.
The General turned to the Captain next to him. He was a tall man, unassuming despite his rank, and a very able officer. He was known for quiet words rather than brash actions.
"What do you make of this?"
The Captain thought for a moment before replying.
"I’ve known Captain Rosten since training. He is no fool. If he trusts these mages, and if half what the Messenger says is true then they have done us a great service. The lives they saved alone are worthy of our thanks; saving the caravan could be immeasurably more valuable."
The General looked up from the written report and nodded his agreement.
"Looking at this report it seems the Captain has granted the mages access to the caravan during the journey here. We must let Borhe know as I’m sure he’ll be interested in what they discover."
The Captain nodded, but then spoke up.
"You intend to await their arrival then Sir?"
The General looked at his Captain with a knowing eye and a slight smile.
"I did, but something tells me you have an alternative."
"It's regarding the lack of reports from Captain Hunt at the bridge. Along with our thanks for services so far we could send a request to our new ‘allies’ to visit the bridge and find out what is going on. If it has been attacked as Hunt feared during his last message then they are the most likely to be able to survive a scouting mission and get back here."
The General’s smile extended into something more recognisable.
"An excellent idea Captain. See that a messenger is dispatched at once."
"At once Sir. Might I also suggest we allow them to take anything they think might help from the caravan as a means of persuading them? It might make them more likely to accept the mission if they were having doubts."
The General looked doubtful for a moment.
"I'll allow that, but make sure they leave notes about what they have taken so that Borhe can read what they have discovered. Also let them know about Wallis."
An hour later another rider left for the return journey, a scroll sealed away in his travel pouch, cloak flapping in the wind as he galloped towards the caravan.
Just a little something because you are all being so patient.
As I'm sure you'll all predict, part of Trengin's decision point will be whether to accept this mission to the bridge.
If he does accept it, you'll also need to decide what to take with you. Details of what you find (if anything) in the caravan will come in the proper Trengin chapter (which will be written ASAP)
If you have any thought about this then discuss here. :D
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 9:01 am Post subject:
| Chapter 13b
The guards surrounding the caravan saluted their captain smartly. He all but ignored them as he ushered us through into the rough circle of wagons.
He waved a hand around the circle almost proudly. "Ignore the front two, but the rest are from the dig-site. I’ll leave you to it," he added with a wink.
Srune let out a low whistle. "Where do we begin?" His turned to face us, his smile now matching our own.
"Let’s take a wagon each to start with," I said, running for the nearest one. I went to enter it, but then I saw that every inch was crammed full with books, scrolls, chests and artefacts. There was no way I’d be able to get in, let alone sit in any comfort.
Moans from nearby wagons confirmed the same conclusions from the other two. I wandered over to them.
"It’s no use trying anything now. We need light and a team of a hundred to get through this lot. Let’s get what rest we can for the night and start again tomorrow morning."
Srune was right and I nodded my agreement. As we passed back through the ring to our tents I reached out and grabbed the nearest book. Roah looked at me slyly.
"Bedtime reading," I protested innocently. He just laughed.
Despite my earlier enthusiasm as soon as I entered the tent a wave of exhaustion rolled over me. As I set the book down I noticed the title "A way around". It didn't give any clues as to its contents but my tiredness prevented any curiosity. I prepared for sleep and then waved a weary hand at the candle. As fast as it winked out I was asleep and didn't even notice Roah or Srune when they entered a little later.
The horn sounded an hour before dawn. Despite only a few hours sleep I felt refreshed and quickly dressed. I emerged from the tent to see soldiers moving about efficiently as they packed up the camp. Roah and Srune appeared behind me looking tired. Roah stifled a yawn and promptly re-applied his smile from the day before.
"Let's pack up quick and get to the wagons, we should dig out enough space for us to at least sit in them as we move. I don't fancy reading from horseback."
Srune and I grinned and nodded. A few gestures later and we were riding our horses through the remains of the camp. We left our horses with a handler and travelled the rest of the way on foot. A quick evaluation of the wagons and we picked the one with the most space. From that one we quickly moved a few of the larger chests and piles of books into spare space in the front two wagons.
Despite the trivial nature of the magic we used for the lifting we still attracted a fair crowd of the younger soldiers. Roah's grin was even more child-like as he moved a large stone tablet using a giant disembodied hand rather than a invisible cushion of air. Our small crowd of on-lookers ooh'ed and ahh'ed.
I cheerily scanned the crowd and was disturbed to see almost as many scowls as smiles. Some watching weren't happy about our presence.
Suddenly I recognised a face. It was the soldier that had been sent to report our 'capture' to the Captain. He was looking unimpressed and whispering to a couple of others nearby. Whatever he was saying to them wiped their smiles from their faces.
Roah meanwhile had finished with the tablet and was now controlling the movements of an unwieldy chest. He'd given it the appearance of having legs and proceeded to make it 'walk' to the other wagon. The cheers increased in volume, and Roah lapped it up. Srune looked on with amusement as a large pile of books under his control drifted by in a more conventional way. So much was his enjoyment that Roah couldn't help himself as he performed a fairly complex gesture against his palm and released it straight up.
A golden ball flew upwards, trailing a plume of bright purple smoke behind. It'd been sometime since I'd seen a fireshow but if there was one thing Roah was good at it was a show. This was one of his favourites. The smoke was changing colours rapidly as the ball flew ever higher. At it's pinnicle the smoke would vanish and then the ball would explode, causing a cascade of golden drops to rain down.
The smoke hadn't even changed colour once before the shout came out. I didn't need to look to know where it'd come from either, I recognised the voice.
"WE'RE UNDER ATTACK, THEY ARE SPIES, THEY'LL KILL US ALL."
It seemed absurd that his shout would cause any trouble, but despite what we'd done the mistrust of mages ran deep and many reacted instinctively. As a general cry of alarm rang out Roah looked about shocked. The golden ball fizzled away almost immediately without his direction but the cries continued, echoed by the messenger's voice rising over the din.
An arrow pinged of a wagon entirely too close for comfort; it was getting out of control. We gathered closer together and Srune quickly gestured a shield around us. A couple more arrows flew close and one hit the shield with a sharp flash. A horn rang out and with relief the crowd parted to reveal the Captain and a number of officers. I quickly discovered that he barely needed Srune's help amplifying his voice as it rang out with ease over the noise.
"CEASE FIRE, AND HOLD."
Immediately all activity stopped and every man turned to stare at him.
"IS THIS SOME KIND OF PARADE THAT I HAVEN'T BEEN TOLD ABOUT. YOU ALL HAVE THINGS TO DO DISMISSED."
Again, barely a second of pause and then every soldier went back to packing the camp without a word. As they went I felt the shield around us subtly fade away.
The Captain walked over to us, arms up to stay any explanation.
"Don't try to explain, I saw what happened. I don't blame you but I'm going to have to ask you keep the magic subdued whilst we're in the open like this. Takes a lot less to make a soldier jumpy these days."
I felt like I should speak up about what I saw, but decided to give a few days. The Captain took polite interest in what we were doing as we finalised our moving, but then excused himself for final preparations.
"That should do it," said Srune, his head popping out from the back of the wagon. We can all sit in some comfort now. Still loads left in here too!"
Roah and I made for the entrance and joined Srune inside. Three small chairs just about fitted around a low desk, the remaining contents already piled up around, and under the table and chairs.
"Cosy," I commented dryly. "But at least we can study as we move."
Roah had already taken a seat and was carefully opening a dusty book. "Wow, this is a history book going back to Alchien's time!"
We were both instantly at his side with our own comments of exclamation at the rare find.
"Not even the Library of Sosulv has accurate information on that time."
"Is it complete?"
Roah gently flicked to the the backcover. "No damage at all." He then stopped and looked up at us peering over his shoulder. "There are one or two other books to look at too."
Over the next three days we stayed within the confines of the wagon save for brief breaks. It turned out that Roah's history book was the merest of the wonders we discovered. Every new book or scroll brought more exclamation and interest. In just the first morning we found four more books from Alchien's time, and over a dozen covering the time inbetween. We'd quickly given up reading what we discovered in favour of making an inventory, allowing the amazement to stack up faster and faster.
Early afternoon on the first day of travel saw my own discovery of note. A book written by a scholar of those times, who actually knew Alchien. I couldn't help read a few paragraphs about the first recorded mage ever, a legend across Terrelee.
Today I met him for a brief few minutes. I'd been warned not to waste his time with foolish questions so I greeted him respectfully, with my head down and knees bent as is proper. He made me stand, and when I looked upon him he was smiling, and clutching an armful of scrolls.
As I watched him, a few slipped his grasp and fell to the floor. I hastened to pick them up from him, and tried to hand them back. He refused and asked me to assist him carrying them to his study. I agreed of course, and set off after him. As soon as I entered his study he turned around and made some strange movement towards me. The scrolls flew from my grasp and joined the rest already floating to one side.
Shock must have made my mind slow because I blurted out the most foolish of thoughts which I mentally punish myself for now.
"I thought you needed help carrying them..."
His voice was gentle but strong as he laughed.
"Excuse my bending of the truth. I only wished to know some of the foolish questions you hold back from me so that I might answer them in some comfort." As he finished he motioned towards two comfortable armchairs.
My mind was staggered, and I was thankful for the seat.
"So my young friend, ask."
Somehow I managed to gather my thoughts, but was still nervous that I might upset him with my questions.
"I...I..I was hoping to learn more of your ...artform. I have discovered that it is rune-based yet I saw nor heard any incantation when you..levitated those scrolls."
He seemed to think for a moment, studying me. His face was still friendly, but I could not help feeling like the prey of some wild beast awaiting the final blow.
"A good question. Magic is rune based as you have discovered. What you do not know is that those runes can be formed in many ways. Either in word or written form as you expected, but also with a gesture of the hand, or even just a mental image of the rune. I suspect there are other ways too, yet undiscovered."
I dragged my eyes from the fasinating personal account. So long ago and already he knew of mental runes. They only worked for stronger mages, and even then only weaker spells, but the very fact he knew of it in that time spoke massively of his power. I longed to read more, but an inventory would be much more useful in finding perhaps crucial information later on. Interesting as it was, it was of little use against the Sempa.
We carried on, long into each night and starting early each morning. The caravan made slow progress towards Etonreh, but we were still on schedule. Small streams had to be crossed, but the efficient soldiers were well prepared with struts and planking, rapidly constructing temporary bridges for the wagons' wheels with barely a delay.
It was the evening of the third day when Srune suddenly got excited. Our tiredness forgotten in a moment we looked over to see what he'd discovered.
"I think I've found mention of the bridge shield Hunt reactivated."
"I thought he took what he discovered with him?" Roah questioned.
Srune shrugged. "There's a lot here, Hunt would have had no more time than we've had to discover something of use. It was the luck of the gods he found anything but history lessons. It's not surprising he didn't find everything on the subject."
"What's it say," I asked.
Srune thought for a while. "From what I can make out, there's no way Hunt activated the shield on his own. It requires a focus."
"A mage," I grunted.
"Precisely." Srune's eyes gleamed as they tore across the page reading more. "But not as a power source, no mage could power a shield that big. The mage is merely the 'bridge' if you pardon the pun, between the stores of power within Grenton and the shield."
"So Hunt had a mage! Who?" Roah interjected straight to the crucial point.
"I have no idea," we both replied in unexpected unison.
A knock on the side of the wagon broke the conversation. A young soldier's face appeared at the opening, bobbing awkwardly as he leaned in from his horse.
"The Captain requests your presence," he said formally. "I have your horses with me so you can ride to the front."
Looking at each other in wonderment, we carefully climbed out the moving wagon and quickly mounted our own horses.
"What do you think?" Srune whispered to me. I shrugged in reply. The Captain had left us to our research, only appearing once camp was made for a brief chat about our findings. He hadn't asked to see us before.
"We'll soon find out I guess," said Roah as he urged his horse forward past us. We caught up with him, and quickly overtook the caravan. An hour's swift ride found us at a small camp set up by the scouts. The Captain's horse, and a dozen more being held by two soliders clearly indicated his presence.
We were recognised, and our horses taken too, as we were ushered in to the tent.
"Ah, you've arrived. Excellent. Refreshments?"
The Captain's voice sounded strained, almost like he was forcing his way through the niceties. A quick glance around showed we were alone apart from a tired looking soldier wearing a stained cloak. A heavy scroll and the remains of broken wax on the table dominating the middle of the tent made the assumption easy to make. The soldier was a messenger. But of what news?
"I have recieved word from my superiors back in Etonreh."
I saw Srune's eyebrows rise along with my own at the swift exchange of messages. Three days was very tight.
"General Stone sends along his sincere thanks for saving the caravan and for all your assistence so far. He also asks that you read this. We hope you find it interesting."
The Captain stood up and handed a small scroll that was unsealed. I took it, noting how tightly rolled it was. It must have been carried inside the larger one.
I unfurled it and held it out so Srune and Roah could see too.
My apologies, but your names are yet to be sent to me.
It was with great pleasure I heard of your unique intervention to prevent the loss of the artifacts so recently unearthed. We spared what resources we could for its protection but without your involvement it would have been in vain and no doubt cost a great number of lives.
It is with a heavy heart, and an unfortunate demonstation of our times, that even before we have chance to meet for the first time I must ask another boon of you.
I'll be brief.
You may already have heard rumours of Grenton Bridge. A Captain called Hunt found valuable information regarding a potential defence against the Sempa there. The last we heard from him he was well entrenched and had some sort of shield activated. However he feared imminent attack.
We have not received word since.
We ask that you take a brief delay in your return to Etonreh to go to Grenton Bridge and hopefully meet with Captain Hunt. I'd hope that you could assist him in setting up the best defence from any possible attack, and perhaps share anything you've managed to learn from the limited research you've done on the caravan's contents.
Regarding the research. I can authorise you to take anything you think will be useful with you to the bridge, including select contents of the caravan.
I hope to recieve word soon that you have accepted this request and look forward to thanking you personally.
I looked up at Srune. His face said nothing as his eyes continued to dart across the page.
What would I suggest? If Srune said no, would I go anyway? I tried to get my thoughts straight as he finished reading.
Skip to next chapter
Thanks for reading :)
So what does Trengin do?
Aside from the main decision point, anything else is open for discussion. For example, if you decide to leave for the bridge, before you leave do you tell the Captain what you saw the soldier do to cause trouble a few days ago?
Please discuss here. :D
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Sun May 07, 2006 4:10 am Post subject:
| Chapter 15: Keeping up appearences
By the time the other two looked up from the letter I'd decided what I wanted to do. I knew they wouldn't be happy but hopefully they'd listen to my reasons. As Srune's eyes flitted upwards I went to speak before he could set himself on one idea.
"Can we risk..."
"Thank you Captain," Srune smoothly interrupted with a silencing flick of the eyes to me. "If you'll allow us some time to decide, I will endeavour to get our answer to you promptly."
The Captain eyed me shrewdly before looking to Srune and agreeing.
"Of course, take what time you need."
Without waiting for either Roah or I, Srune turned on his heels and walked out clutching the letter. I gave a nod to the Captain and followed Srune out into the night.
Already he was getting back on to his horse, held patiently by a soldier. I went to my own horse and mounted, turning to see him already trotting back to the wagons. With a shrug to Roah I followed in silence using the time to frame my thoughts more carefully. What was up with him?
Once we were seated, surrounded by books in the back of the wagon, Srune finally spoke.
"Gather what you think will be useful, we leave at dawn."
I raised an eyebrow, ready to counter immediately with my own plan, but Roah beat me too it.
"What do you mean we leave at dawn! What about the caravan? You intend for us to just abandon it at the first command from some General we've never met!"
"The bridge," he started in retaliation, but I jumped in to finish. "Could be useful, but isn't any more important than the caravan, and probably less. We know for certain that this wagon alone is invaluable with just the fraction of research we've done. Let alone the other wagons all overflowing with more."
His eyes spun from the nodding Roah and stared at me, frustration already creasing his brow.
"But, a fortified position, protected from magic! Don't you two see what that could mean!"
"We promised to protect the caravan until it was safe in Etonreh," Roah said. "Are we to break the Circle's promises to men every time something better comes along? I thought that was something we swore not to do."
I winced at the mention of the Circle. They surely considered me apart of that already, what other 'rules' had the pair of them concocted between themselves.
"We're only 3 days from Etonreh," Srune persisted, "we've given them protection this far, we can't anticipate another Sempa attack this close. Whereas Captain Hunt holed up in the Bridge is almost certainly going to draw their attention sooner or later."
Time to jump in.
"I agree," I said simply. Immediately Roah took on the frustrated stares whilst Srune looked surprised. "But 'the Circle' can't abandon its promise," I continued. "That is why I am going to Bridge alone - whilst - 'the Circle' continues to Etonreh."
Hands raised and protests rose with them, but I just stared at them until they stopped.
"I admit you are right that mages need to stand up to the Sempa, but I never said I'd joined the Circle."
Srune eyes lifted in sign of further protest but I ignored him.
"I'm not leaving something if I never joined even if you wanted me to believe I had." If there was a glimpse of guilt on either of their faces I didn't see it. "I intended to go to meet with Captain Hunt anyway, before you found me again that is. It makes sense for you two to see the job through to the end and continue research on all this whilst I have a quick scout around."
"And what if there's trouble at the Bridge?"
"Then one man can see and get back quicker than three," I countered. "You want this Circle to succeed, what better opportunity to get involved by personally meeting this General Stone? With his help you can get teams of people working on that caravan, as well as Etonreh's library staff. Plus it's time you got recruiting if we're ever gonna seriously dent the Sempa's numbers or even defend Etonreh for more than a few minutes if it's attacked."
Reluctantly, inch by inch, Srune relented under my barrage of reason. I just wished I didn't already find myself wanting their company to the bridge. Despite what I'd heard of it I didn't see how it could hold against a significant Sempa attack. Mad as he must be, Captain Hunt was a man I wanted to meet, and the mage with him too.
With some final thoughts and planning we continued reading through books until dawn, desperate to find anything that might be of use to me. We found many more fascinating history accounts and journals, but no more mention of Alchien or the bridge. In the end we decided I should take the one book that Srune had found that mentioned the bridge but didn't think it was worth risking any more than that.
Despite the change of plan Srune still insisted with an immediate departure. We had already past the turning I'd need to follow to take me along the edge of the great forest and towards the bridge. Any further towards Etonreh would just take me further away. My pack was found, along with food, a blanket and the contents from my tent packed into saddlebags already strapped in place on my horse. Srune appeared with the bridge book, found again after being misplaced during our frantic last night of research.
"Don't take it any closer to the bridge than you have to." He handed me a black piece of cloth that caught the light slightly. "One of the soldiers found some oilwrap to keep it safe even if you have to bury it."
I nodded and took the sleek material, hastily stuffing it in a saddlebag as I mounted my horse.
"Give my best to the Captain and I'll see you soon," I promised. "It'd also be nice to actually be able to call it a Circle without lying by the time I get back."
Srune grinned and we both laughed. Then, without anymore hesitation I turned the horse and made my way through the awakening camp. The road we'd just travelled stretched out before me and I turned the walk into a mile-eating canter as soon as I cleared the sentries.
After the comparable slow speed of the caravan I was surprised to find myself at the turning before the sun was much more than a fist higher than the horizon. My horse skidded slightly as I sawed the reins to pull her round the corner but she kept her feet and we continued at the same pace kicking up dust behind. There was still a long way to go.
There were very few people on the road, the forest historically home to brigands and cutpurses, and now all but considered Sempa territory. The occasional wagon rumbled by, but I barely noticed.
I'd gone no further than a couple of leagues before a larger cloud of dust ahead spoke of galloping horses. I slowed up, and watched the cloud advance quickly. A few minutes later I saw the half-a-dozen riders heading my way.
I was heading west, with the sun behind me, they wouldn't have seen any more than a silhouette yet so I reined in and studied them. The lead rider rode a few lengths ahead of the rest, a large red cloak trailing behind and the glint of some kind of armour. Behind him the others all had cloaks too, but of various hues. Unlikely they were soldiers then. Why were they in such a hurry?
Intuition gripped me and I was tracing the pattern of runes against my palm before I'd even realised it. I held the pattern in my mind and saw it coalesce as my magic flowed along, filling the runes with my power. With just seconds before the riders would be able to see me clearly I released the spell. The flow washed over me, and my image wavered slightly and became solid.
Without even the hint of a command the lead rider reined in and stopped just before me. Despite the lack of warning the rest of the riders reined in just as quickly and stopped behind him, large stallions pawing the ground impatiently. They all had hard faces, with several days beard growth and heavy eyelids. Despite that, every pair of eyes fixed on me with steady gazes that belied their weary appearance.
"Well met old man." The grin spoke of unexpected opportunity.
"Well met," I responded slowly.
"Dangerous roads to be travelling alone. Shouldn't you be tucked up in some bed with a fire or a woman if you can still keep one." He snickered loudly and his men laughed with him.
I lifted a bony arm, sleeved in little more than rags, and gestured at the panting old nag I was riding.
"Me and ol'Bess here are just out for a walk. We have nothing of value to attract those that would harm us." Even my voice sounded old.
He seemed to suddenly see me again, blinking twice and staring at the gaunt horseflesh that I was slumped on with a grimace. Behind him I saw the others twitch and fidget nervously, fingering what were probably weapons under their cloaks. The lead rider sat up straighter, face blank as he unconsciously flicked his cloak behind a shoulder. I tensed for trouble.
"Find yourself that fire grandpa, some would kill you just for the sport," and with that he kicked his heels in and his horse leapt away. The other five flashed looks of regret but were quick to follow him.
I breathed a sigh of relief and walked on for a few moments until they were out of sight. With a flick of my hand the illusion vanished. My young horse danced on the spot, eager to be away again despite the morning of heavy running. I gave her free reign and she quickly sped up to a gallop for a few moments before slowing to a canter again. I didn't see anyone else that day.
"Found anything Srune?" The older mage had been flicking through pages and frowning for ten minutes over the leather-bound book. Roah, idly writing another title in the column neatly laid out on the paper in front of him, waited for an answer. He put the last book back down and had picked up the next before he got it.
"What? Oh found anything, well perhaps. I'm not sure."
After another exhausting day of cataloging this first wagon Roah resisted throwing a book at him.
"Well spit it out."
"It's from a journal of a mage called Ferum Wastomer, I'll read part of it to you."
Five more dropped down today, fingers twitching again. If those damnable Sempa keep bombarding the wall-shield like that then we will lose more before this is over.
"It then says later..."
I should be using this time to sleep, but I must record what is happening. All but one of us are needed to maintain the shield now. We have to take it in turns to have an hour's sleep before going back so someone else can rest. It won't be long before we lose more to the twitchings. Hretan thinks he knows what is happening to them but we can not let him stop to find out. We need everyone's strength to hold on. Help will surely arrive soon.
Roah listened intently. "The first emflikars perhaps. But what war, only one ever mentioned mages battling each other? It can't be...that...but that's only myth?"
Srune nodded. "Yes, the Dead war. A battle between both halves of the planet leaving the deadzone as a scar as result of the magics they flung at each other."
"But we are taught that it is a result of the planet's formation. A focus of the magic that forms this world causing the separation of the North from the South. Nothing mages could do could cause something that huge and permanent!"
Srune just nodded idly, already back to flicking pages. "Maybe," he replied absently.
With just an hour of sunlight left I was lucky to find a small village nestled with a copse of woodland about a mile from the road; chimney smoke alerting me to its presence.
The map that Roah had thrust into my hands before I left didn't show anything in this area for another thirty miles or so. I looked at the map again, but if there was a date when it was drawn it had rubbed off. The paper was still good, albeit well creased, but nothing suggested the map was more than a year old. Remembering the riders from earlier I decided to approach with care, and followed the road a bit further so I could scout the village from within the trees.
It was like any other village, squat huts in two rough lines lining the main path through. A much larger building stood at the end, with two stories and windows in the roof, most likely an inn. A soft bed suddenly seemed appealing after the last few nights reading in the wagon. A couple of farms were on the far side with some livestock. People were dotted about a small market that had been setup in a square in front of the inn, clearly taking advantage of every moment of daylight to do as much trading as possible. A large post was at the far end of the square, with something at the top but in the fading daylight I couldn't make out any details. The whole scene looked surprisingly peaceful given the times.
Had the Sempa missed this village? Maybe I should just make camp alone somewhere as originally planned. A light suddenly appeared in a window of the inn and the image of the bed appeared again.
What to do?
pics: village, books
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Thanks for reading and please discuss here :)
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Thu Jun 01, 2006 7:56 am Post subject:
| Chapter 17: Bridgeward Bound
With the image of the bed foremost in my mind it didn't take long to convince myself to at least get closer to the village for a better look. My disguise had worked well enough earlier afterall.
Noting the rapidly sinking sun I wasted no time repeating the runes of illusion from earlier, although this time I didn't waste the effort altering my horse. If I did make it to the inn, the horse would go to the stables and a young stableboy suddenly seeing her change shape when I fell asleep would cause trouble.
A flung out palm cast the spell and my image wavered. To match the horse my clothes were in better condition, and my body not quite as frail seeming. It would do.
Backtracking through the woods I made it back onto the road and approached the village as any traveller would. From this angle I could see straight down the main street, all the way to the inn at the end with the market in front. The market was fading along with the light and already the number of people milling about had more than halved. I watched one middle-aged woman dressed in a dark shawl, arms brimming with baskets, travel quickly to a small house and slam the door closed as soon as she'd entered.
I entered the outskirts at a slow walk, so far no one seeming to even notice me. I cast my eyes back from the woman's house and my gaze caught on the large post I'd seen from a distance. My horse must have sensed my feelings because she stopped dead at the exact moment I saw what was hung from the top. Man, woman, or even child, I couldn't tell from the little that remained. Skin dangled limply from the corpse more often than clothes; the few rags that remained barely discernable from the dried blood coating it. Flies swarmed around it in a haze, and a couple of crows stood atop the post. It was the arms and legs that drew my attention; both ended in stumps far too neat and straight to be the work of any healer. A Sempa was responsible.
Whether it was part of the organised groups or a lone rogue taking pleasure in tormenting a village I didn't want to find out. It counted as something bad and I stuck to my earlier decision. I turned my horse round quickly and urged her quickly into a gallop away. If anyone noticed they wouldn't blame an old man's terror at the sight. But why did the villagers remain?
I let the questions fade along with the illusion as I clung to the swiftly moving horse. I couldn't let her continue this speed for long, but it was hard to rein her in when I wanted as much distance behind me as possible. Another patch of woodland a little way off the road made a darker patch against the almost black sky and I slowed down and moved towards it. I was little more than a few miles away, but it'd have to do. If my horse stumbled in the dark I'd be left on foot.
I made a hasty camp in the dark, not risking any light, and ate only a little flatbread before lying down in my bedroll. I closed my eyes, but not for sleep just yet. My hands traced the runes as my mind readied itself for the contact. I released the spell and felt the life around me. These trees were even more resistant than those that had helped defend the caravan, and I swallowed another regret not to be back home in my familiar forest and persevered.
Only a small group of trees, barely more than a few dozen, but as always I felt the awe and contentment at the connected lives. I felt a pang of sorrow, and realised one of their number was sick, a song that was low and quiet amongst the others. I drifted closer to the sorrow. I knew my hands would be gesturing rapidly as I held out an ethereal limb to the papery bark, and a soft glow seemed to spread from my touch. It travelled downwards, towards the roots I realised, where the disease was slowly eating them away. I felt the song from the others rise higher, louder, a defence for their injured brother against my unknown manipulation but I fought the confusion and focused my power. I felt the sickness, drew it into the glow and enveloped it. As the glow retreated the sickness was gone. The effect was immediate, the sorrow changing to one of surprise and joy, chorused by the others. I felt probing sounds, investigating my presence. Slowly I exerted my control, nothing as dramatic as before, just a request to watch and alert. If anyone came close they'd let me know. The song clung to me, calling to me to join them forever but I pulled away and entered my own body again, falling soundly asleep to the soothing echo of their voices.
The next few days passed swiftly, with barely anyone on the road, and none after the first day. This close to the bridge it was odd not to see supply wagons or some sign of what should be several hundred soldiers just a few score miles away. After breaking camp the day before I hadn't returned to the road, taking to travelling cross-country instead. I had left behind most of my pack's contents, along with the book, protected beneath the thick roots of a large featherfern. I'd left my horse there too, on a long lead that allowed her access to a small stream for water and plenty of grass to eat.
The book had proved valuable, although often cryptic. I'd managed to read parts before settling down to sleep over the last couple of days and discovered more detail about how the shield worked with a mage as a focus. It seemed the link was more formality than necessity, added in for whatever reason the creators had decided. The book didn't mention why, but it did explain that once a link was established the shield would be maintained as long as the mage was alive and within a mile of the centre node. Even if the mage moved outside that range, so long as he was back within a week the shield would continue as if he were always there, but would stop unless he returned or another mage linked in. As for limits, the book didn't categorically say, but it gave the impression that it was designed to be impervious to any and all know magic’s at the time. It still didn't add up though. How did it maintain and store so much power? Even maintaining a shield would drain a mage eventually, and all the more quickly when attacked. Any mana the bridge took from the linked mage would be a drop in the great lake to what was needed! Hopefully Captain Hunt, or the mage himself could answer some of those questions once I arrived; if the Sempa hadn't attacked yet.
All I took with me was a small amount of food, the map, and a sealed scroll I'd been asked to give to Captain Hunt. The morning after my first camp I'd marked the strange village on the map, if only to show others so they could avoid it, although maybe it could be investigated if Srune's Circle ever had enough members to spare. For now though it was out of my thoughts as I contemplated the best direction to approach the bridge.
The sound of a voice floated on the slight breeze and I quickly dropped down, concealing myself behind a rock and thick bush. After a few minutes listening it faded away; they must be ahead of me. I was tempted for a few moments to seek and find out who or what it was, but the memories of the dark held me back. Roah and Srune weren't around now, and it seemed foolish to risk it, no matter how many times it had worked fine until recently. I had to rely on stealth.
Cautiously I moved from my hiding place and headed west toward where the voices had come from. It was in the direction of the bridge, following the course of the swift river that appeared suddenly a few miles to the north. I'd discovered it by accident late the day before. Vicious rapids that left no thought for crossing, even if you could descend the sheer cliff face to the river below.
I'd only gone a few hundred paces when the voice became audible again, along with a second one in reply. They weren't in a hurry it seemed, or worried about others overhearing, even if they too were avoiding the road and travelling cross-country. The sound vanished again and I ghosted forwards, using any rock or bush for concealment as if I were hunting rabbits back home, although it wasn't as easy as woodland.
The land was the same gently sloping grass land, with the small hills and shallow valleys I'd travelled the last few days. The nearest patch of trees was enticingly close, some way to the left of me but where I crouched cover seemed disturbingly sparse. Yet I couldn't see them, so I tried to reassure myself they couldn't see me and continued moving.
As I topped a low rise I caught my first glimpse of them, two men, one with a small deer draped over his shoulders, strolling up the next hill ahead. They wore non-descript clothing, shirts and pants that would suit any farmer, merchant or woodsman who spent any amount of time outside. But neither carried any weapons which immediately set off alarms in my head. No hunter, however good, gets close enough to a deer to kill it with his bare hands; it was hard enough with a bow. One, at least, must be a mage. But Sempa? They seemed at ease, and to punctuate that a faint echo of a laugh floated down from them. Maybe it was the mage from the bridge, out for a day's break? From what I'd read of the shield it wouldn't harm the defences.
Regardless though, once they made it to the top, if one of them happened to look around they'd seem me easily. Dropping down from the top of the rise I dashed around the slope as fast as I dared. Once I came out from behind the hill I'd have nearly 300 paces to travel to the small patch of trees with no cover. Not for the first time I felt irritated the illusion spell from earlier couldn't make me invisible, and not from lack of trying either. I crouched at the edge and peaked round. They were maybe 50 paces from the top, and the one carrying the deer now had it held under one arm like he was struggling with it. Just my luck, they'd probably stop at the top now for a rest. Nothing for it.
And fell flat on my face as my foot caught in a small hole. Frantically I got back up, and offered a small prayer of thanks that my ankle wasn't twisted as I continued running. My relief at making it to the treeline was palpable as I peered round half expecting to see them pointing toward me. They had indeed stopped, but neither looked in my direction, although one looked to be admiring the view behind, where I'd been following just moments before.
As I got my breath back I tried to decide what to do.
pic: rapids, landscape
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Lots of options... some of the possible ones being, continue following, attack, greet them, try to get ahead of them and get to the bridge first, anything else you can think of?
If he attacks with the element of surprise he thinks he could probably incapacitate them both pretty quickly. It'd be trickier if they are both mages. One would be likely able to get a retaliatory spell cast or maybe a shield.
Please discuss here
Thanks for reading :D
Joined: 16 Oct 2004
|Posted: Fri Jul 28, 2006 8:54 am Post subject:
|Chapter 19: Strangers
"We should probably think about getting back, Sir."
The younger man stared at his superior calmly. Over the last few days rank had been relaxed considerably, but he still couldn't bring himself to call him by name. His captain awkwardly shifted the deer back on to his shoulder before replying.
"Aye, you're right. Staring at a view like this lets me forget where we are and what we have to do, if only for a few minutes."
"It's also past time I took turn with the kill," the soldier mentioned quickly, and not for this first time. The captain laughed.
"I've told you no, Soldier," his tone one of mock seriousness. "I brought this beauty down myself and I'll get it back to camp if it kills me. And it probably will," he finished with another chuckle. With an exaggerated sigh the soldier joined him in the laugh and they both set off down the otherside of the low hill.
They hadn't travelled more than a further hundred paces when the captain lowered his voice and spoke quickly out the side of his mouth.
"Don't look back, but I swear I saw a face in the trees before we started off again. We've got company."
"Friendly?" The soldier asked carefully.
"I don't think the Sempa are the sort to skulk around in woodland Jerins, but he looked more mage than huntsman out for a stroll."
"Aye, the gully will do nicely."
The sound of them laughing drifted down from the hilltop where they stood and I watched them keenly. The taller one hefted the deer back onto his shoulder and a few moments later they turned and walked off. Ideas floated through my head. If I could get them into the trees there was a number of options possible, even if they were both Sempa. But how to do that? Better to just continue following them for now.
I jogged a little through the trees until I thought I would be travelling parallel with them and then headed back to the edge to check. I quickly spotted them approaching the bottom of the low hill. They'd picked up the pace and were no longer talking. What was the sudden urgency? A quick glance at the sun showed it well above the horizon; there was plenty of daylight left.
With a jolt I realised they'd already put a distance between us whilst I'd been thinking, and I headed further back into the trees to try and catch up again. For maybe twenty minutes we played a game of cat and mouse as I raced to get ahead, to then see them for only a few seconds before they disappeared from view. They never went a single step closer to the trees.
I was out of breath and they seemed to show no sign of fatigue, when they suddenly stopped atop an even smaller hill. I saw the deer placed down for a moment and I took the opportunity to run ahead. When I once again appeared at the edge of the treeline and looked behind me to see them, they were gone. Impossible! I scanned the area quickly, and then didn't hesitate to close my eyes; my hands already moving in the accompanying gestures. My awareness floated out, and quickly travelled to the point I'd last seen them. Just beyond, the land dipped down suddenly into a gully I couldn't have seen from the tree line. Before I could investigate any further I felt the pressure that told me I'd reached the limit of my scouting and with a wince I released the spell: idly noting it had worked without me blacking out.
Looking about, and at the map, I tried to get my bearings. The bridge was still some distance off, but I could reach it today if I hurried. The gully stank of ambush which meant they somehow knew I'd been following. The idea of the bridge ahead, and them behind made my decision. I was hardly defenseless. I'd have to take my chances.
"Was he still following before we lost sight of the trees?" Jerins asked in a hissed whisper from the cover of a jutted piece of rock.
"I'm not sure, I didn't catch sight of him again."
The captain wasn't happy with such a blind ambush, but it was the best the terrain afforded them. If curiosity was enough to make the fellow follow them, then maybe it would be enough to bring him into the gully. He hoped it was.
Nervously he fingered the light throwing dagger, until he noticed and made his hand stop. Like a green recruit on his first scout, he admonished himself silently. This was no time to let nerves get the better of him. But then, nerves around mages was just common sense. A man can get himself killed quick messing with mages. He thought along wiith a muttered curse at just how much 'messing' with mages he'd done recently. Silently he went back to watching the entrance.
I approached the gully from above, carefully. It plummeted for maybe twenty feet to a dry, rock-littered, floor. A variety of mature plants said it hadn't seen water flowing down it in some considerable time. It was deep enough to be cast in thick shadow and I couldn't see any sign of the two men, or a way down. I crawled back, away from the edge, and then stood up carefully and followed it down the small hill to an entrance. As I peered into the gloom I contemplated scouting again, and dismissed the idea just as quick. I had been rash before, if I blacked out I would be at their mercy, mages or not.
With several offensive runes running through my head, and one on my palm ready to cast, I stepped into the shadows and crouched down to let my eyes adjust. After a few moments I could make out more rocks and several larger boulders ahead, any of them potentially hiding the men. I took a few steps forward, sticking to the edges, and stopped behind one of the larger rocks near the wall.
I froze still. The sound of the shout echoed around the walls and I couldn't tell exactly where it came from.
"We know you've been following us Mage," the voice continued. "If you so much as sneeze, I won't hesitate to see you dead."
I still couldn't tell where it was came from, but it wasn't too far ahead. He likely wasn't a mage either. Sempa spoke of other mages with much more disgust and this was verging on fear, well disguised behind a mask of bravado. It sounded young too; the one without the deer. Where was the other man?
I looked around the shadows anxiously, trying to see just how much bluff was in the threat. How did he intend to see me dead? I decided the risk was too great and stood up, my hands held high, palms backwards.
"I intend no harm. Just wary of strangers on the same path as me."
I took a step forward, toward the centre of the path and stopped. Concentrating, and hoping he couldn't see me close my eyes in the dark, I quickly cast the basic rune to feel for nearby mages. It only extended for a few paces around me, but I felt nothing. Remembering their weaponless appearance, and the dead deer, I was still convinced the other was a mage. Where was he hiding?
"I'm in the open. Now I would see you," I called out.
A quick shuffle in the darkness, and what might have been a hurried whisper.
"Ok mage, I'll come out, but my..friend stays where he is. One false move and your throat will be decorated with his knife before you can blink."
I tried not to smile at the slip from him. A knife thrower! I didn't doubt the theat, he must be extraordinarily skilled to bring down a deer with a throwing knife, but at least he wasn't a mage. I noticed the slight hesitation over 'friend' too. Whoever he was, friend wasn't quite true. Ahead of me the darkness parted to reveal the shorter man of the pair. He was indeed young, probably no more than twenty seasons. He strode calmly, with the surety of someone familiar with where he was despite the shadows.
"Your name mage." The voice was tougher sounding than the face let on. He was still scared. I relaxed a little, the rune for a quick defense ready in my head to cast in a few seconds.
"I doubt my name would make any difference. How about we start with why you are out here? I assume you're aware of the bridge crawling with soldiers not more than a dozen miles from here, not to mention Sempa activity in this area. Hardly the place for a pleasant day spent hunting!"
His face creased in thought for a moment and then twisted in annoyance.
"Nevermind that mage, I'm asking the questions."
Irritation flared through me. This was getting us nowhere. Without a word of warning I threw myself sideways, crouched as small as I could, closed my eyes and twisted my palm to cast the prepared rune. As the bright flare of light flashed through the narrow gully I felt myself tense, awaiting the feel of steel hitting me.
Twin cries of surprise mingled with mild yelps of pains as they met my spell and I stood up almost before I'd hit the ground, my hands already tracing another rune.
"I don't intend to harm you, but I don't do well being questioned under threat of a knife in my neck. I'll be on the top of the hill waiting for you. Come quickly and openly and we'll talk."
Casting the rune - a shield around myself - I turned and walked out the gully with my back to them and climbed up to where I'd seen them before they'd disappeared. I sat down and watched for them following behind. A few minutes later I saw them. The younger one who had spoken was still rubbing his eyes, but the knife-thrower walked out in front, striding straight towards me. His hands barely seemed to move but I felt the impact in the ground as two knives thudded either side of me, about a pace away.
"You're right mage." His voice was deeper, and sounded confident. "Much nicer out here. My name is Captain Hunt, this is Soldier Jerins."
I gaped at the news and he suddenly laughed.
"I've seen folk impressed with my throwing before, but I didn't expect such admiration from one like you. Or is it some mage-trick that makes your mouth hang open like that? Catching flies to use in some potion perhaps!"
He continued chucking at his own joke as I slowly closed my mouth and found myself grinning too. Already I could feel the tension leaving me. The soldier, Jerins, caught up but stayed respectfully a pace behind the captain; the deer, I noticed, slung over his shoulder now.
"Captain Hunt! Fates prick me if that doesn't bring a smile to my face all by itself. I'm travelling to meet you. I was sent here by request of General Stone in Etonreh."
It was their turn to gape, and Jerins did, openly. Hunt's own shock was gone in a flash, his face still creased in the last vestiages of his laugh, before strangely becoming...saddened.
"Aye, that is good to hear. Perhaps now you could favour us with your name before I ruin your day.
I stood up, and extended my hand in greeting, already fearing the worst. "Trengin. Something has happened at the bridge then? The expected Sempa attack?"
The question fell out my mouth. "And the shield, it didn't stop them?"
"A story to tell once this beauty is well roasted and our bellies are full," he replied pointing at the deer. He said no more, a look on his face like he had never laughed and would never laugh again. Wordlessly I followed him.
"You tell a grim tale captain."
I was sat in a cosy camp, well hidden from any of the paths on my map, and not quite two leagues from the bridge. We'd marched there in silence, Hunt leading all the way. When we'd arrived Jerins had quickly set about the carcass whilst the captain sat down on a log and began sharpening his two knives. He began the tale with his discovery of the bridge's shield and his race to get there and activate it, confirming much of what I'd discovered about how it worked.
"You were lucky to have a mage with you to link with the shield. I didn't know any had joined to help against the Sempa." I had asked.
"Just the two. One, Borhe, is back in Etonreh as General Stone's advisor. He's worked with the General for many years and stayed loyal when the Sempa began their attacks. The other we didn't know much about. He didn't talk much but he did as he was asked and fought hard. I wouldn't be here talking to you if not for him."
"Do you know his name?"
A flash of memory. I am a small boy, playing with several friends in my home village. Two strangers appear wreathed in fire. We run and hide, terrified.
"What's the matter, did you know him?" The captain's voice cut through my memory and I snapped back trying to remember what he'd said.
"Erm..Yes, yes I did. His family were killed by Sempa when he was a child."
"That would explain a lot."
Before he could continue Jerins announced food was ready and we ate in silence, each mulling over our own thoughts.
That day had changed all our lives. Only Wallis, Roah and myself had made it out the village to our hiding place near the river. We'd hidden from our parents there numerous times after getting in some trouble or other. Norral never made it, he must have tripped as we ran. I never saw him again.
After the meal Hunt took up the story again.
"The Sempa arrived sooner than we expected but we were about as ready as we could be anyway. What we didn't account for was how they announced their arrival. A few days before their main attack we had a brief assault on the shield, but Wallis was convinced it was no more than a couple of mages. It seems they were testing the shield, throwing different kinds of magic at it. A couple of flights of arrows towards where they were hidden seemed to scare them off.
The next we knew was four days later. I was in the keep with Wallis looking at the defences from the battlements. One moment it was a clear day, the next a sandstorm appeared from the far side. It passed straight through the shield and covered the whole far side. I couldn't see anything, but we heard the screams. Moments later the storm covered the keep and we were blinded too.
It vanished as quickly as it started and there they were. A full squad of them, walking across the bridge as if it were just a festival day and they were out for a stroll. Behind them nothing moved. The catapults were buried in the rocks that we had ready to fire and there were burning bodies everywhere, ...it was... a massacre."
His voice broke for just a second before he continued. His eyes stared straight ahead at nothing.
"Now that we could see, Wallis started giving orders. My men were charging, and firing arrows from all around. They were dying just as quickly. Any arrows that didn't just fly backwards at their firers, burnt to ash on their shield. Wallis sent something towards their shield at the same time he ordered a whole unit to fire directly at them. Whatever he did their shield must have gone down because they suddenly showed signs of panic. The centre Sempa sent a fireball up that incinerated half the arrows, and the rest seemed to hit a new shield. One lucky arrow slipped through and took one of the Sempa in the back of the head."
There was no triumph in his voice, just a heavy bitterness. It was clearly small compensation for the number of soldiers killed.
"It didn't stop them for long though. They burnt the body away and continued moving. Wallis sent a few more surprises at them but they didn't kill any more of them and suddenly he ordered everyone out the keep. We ran as fast as we could but we were only halfway to the exit when Wallis shouted it was too late. He grabbed hold of me, (and Jerins who happened to be running along side of me) and told us to curl up, close our eyes and don't move. We did just that, and he crouched down around us.
Whatever he did saved us, but when he dragged me to my feet the keep was just rubble around us. He pretty much blasted us a way out, constantly shouting at us to hurry. We followed, half blinded and coughing from dust and rubble until we broke free. He didn't stop though. Practically dragged us up to the tree line and left us in a clearing a few hundred paces in. He told us to stay there, and stay out of sight before running back. I don't know what he did but a few hours later we heard explosions near the edge of the trees. We stayed hidden for another hour before creeping back, and found nothing but a chared circle."
"You tell a grim tale captain." It was all I could think of to say. I tried to gather my thoughts. The Sempa had attacked quickly. Four days he'd said between the testing and the main attack. If the scouts had reported back before sending the full squad then the Sempa had a large base within two days of the Bridge at most. Questions suddenly came to mind in a rush.
"What have you been doing since the attack? How long ago was it?"
"It has been seven days. We've expected word from Etonreh in some form and we've used the time to keep watch on the bridge."
"It's guarded I assume."
"Yes they left four of them behind. The rest went back, with Wallis."
Surprise shook me. "They took him captive! How did you find that out?"
The captain shrugged. "We overheard the four remaining bastards talking about it. They made a camp near the trees to be away from the smell on the bridge. It was easy enough to get close to them with the trees for cover."
I reappraised the captain. Brave didn't come close, the man was fearless. "You spied on them! Did you learn anything else?"
"Yes we did," Jerins suddenly put in. He'd been silent all through the story but his eyes were bright in the light of the campfire with an eagerness. "They received reinforcements to hold the bridge properly. A full squad arrived two days ago"
I tried to get my thoughts together with all the information. They captured Wallis! By the sounds of it he'd would have died rather than be captured. How did they keep him contained? If he was drained from the fight perhaps, but it'd only have been a few hours before he would have recharged enough to kill himself and any of them nearby. I hadn't seen my childhood friend since the day his parents had been killed. He'd run off out the village, alone. I hadn't expected to hear he was alive, let alone captured by Sempa. Sympathy washed through me. Could he be rescued?
What about the bridge? A full squad entrenched behind the shield would be near impossible to dig out without many more mages. The shield!
"Captain, the shield, do you know if it is still active?" Without Wallis the link should have been broken by now. And with the keep destroyed the node to establish a new link would be buried under tonnes of rock, if not destroyed.
He shook his head. "I don't know. We have no way of testing and we've heard nothing from the Sempa."
I only half heard as my thoughts whirred. That must be why they captured Wallis, to learn about the shield and how it worked! I shuddered at what they might do to him to learn that. Something else snagged in my thoughts about their camp. The trees. They were camped in the trees.
The captain's voice broke through my thoughts again.
"Etonreh needs to be told. If there is a nest of these vipers just a few days from here then we need to let them know. Maybe something could be done."
"Without more mages we have no chance. We need an army to even consider it." I declared, already trying to remember mages I used to know between here and Etonreh.
"Or, perhaps, a circle," I whispered to myself.
Lots of news for Trengin.
What is his next move? His plans? His priorties? Could he take the bridge back - we'd need a damn good plan. Does he try to find where they've taken Wallis? Does he go back to Etonreh, possibly trying to recruit on the way? Does he do something else?
Please discuss here :D
*I know there is a random guy wandering in my picture of a gully, and there's rather too many trees, but it gives the idea ;)