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Norral's Command - EVEN Chapters 2-18 & now 20! (May 6th
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Joined: 16 Oct 2004
Posts: 5215
Location: UK

Posted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 12:09 pm    Post subject: Norral's Command - EVEN Chapters 2-18 & now 20! (May 6th  

WARNING: Graphic violence in this chapter.

Chapter 2 : A job well done

I love the screams.

With casual ease I gesture downwards and the person I'm holding in the air plummets to the ground. The head hits the compact earth with a satisfying crunch and disintegrates like an over-ripe melon. The body follows, blood squirts out from the many wounds like mini-geysers coating everything nearby. Movement to my left and I swing round. A claw-like gesture and the would-be attacker's heart explodes in his chest. My favourite death scream rips from his throat for just a few precious seconds before his lifeless body crumples to the floor.

Behind me now and I see a line of children running hand in hand away from the town centre towards the gates. A boy of about 15 leads the way, shouting encouragement to the younger ones. Laughing manically I swipe my hand through the air and watch as the razor-sharp force slices his head off creating a cacophony of sweet screams from the panic stricken children. Another swipe and a row of hands are sliced off changing the screams to the beautiful pitch only pain can cause.

They split up, leaderless, and begin to run. Annoyed that they might get away I chop down with both hands creating two invisible walls in front and behind them. The faster runners hit my force and fall backwards. Seconds later, as I whip my hands together in a clap, the two walls slam together squashing everything caught between them. More blood fills the street already awash with red.

With no signs of life around me I spare a chance to look around. I can see more of my brothers enjoying the screams, the citizens of the town dying in a multitude of ways. Bruos, standing guard by the gate is confronted by a squad of horseback militia. They gallop towards him, almost obscured by the dust cloud they kick up. At about 50 paces away Bruos jumps and throws out a palm. The ground shakes in command as he lands, and a ripple spreads out in a line towards the fast moving horses. It hits them and explodes, man and horse alike are tossed into the air, landing in a tangled heap of mangled bodies.

An old man further down another street is spinning violently through the air, bourne by the force of our squadleader, Darak. He continues the torture with a laugh similar to my own, almost shaking the life out of the crippled body. An equally old woman, brandishing a hoe, suicidally steps out to the old man's aid. Darak merely points to a nearby window and the old woman watches in horror as her husband flies headfirst into the top floor of an inn. Glass and blood exploded out from the impact. Before she can even scream he turns his glare to her and performs his specialty. Her arms, legs and head immediately contort in angles clearly not healthy. A second passes as the magic battles flesh and bone and then all the limbs fly in different directions. The torso falls to the floor.

Looking up Darak notices me and waves a greeting before turning on a mother protecting a baby. A glint of metal flashes in the sun and I react instinctively. As the arrow thunders towards Darak's unprotected back I throw my palm forward. Time seems to slow as my spell races to catch up. Just as the tip teases the fabric of his robes it stops and falls to ash at his feet.

Awareness catches up with Darak and he spins on his feet, hands held up. He sees the flakes falling to the ground and looks back at me. His face looks distraught and he gives me the sign I was expecting. This town was turning into trouble and we needed to finish the job quickly.

Raising my right arm into the air I send a large plume of red smoke up into the air. With my left hand I gesture in the direction the arrow came from and I watch with satisfaction as the building the sniper is hiding in explodes under the impact of a massive fireball.

Just a few minutes later I stand surrounded by ten of my brothers. Darak joins us and I give the nod to begin the group incantation.

Our voices rise into the smoke-filled air and a tremor is felt in the earth. Our hands all moving in long practiced gestures as we complete the specific runes in perfect co-ordination. Dark clouds gather over our heads and then quickly spread to cover the entire town.

At exactly the same time we all stab our hands into the air. Scores of lightning bolts thunder out of the clouds. Buildings, walls, trees and stray survivors alike, explode. On and on the lightning continues searching for any more life, the boiling clouds dark and terrible.

I continue my part, losing myself in the ritual and paying no attention to anything but Darak. After what seems like days I see his left hand come down and immediately we all mimic. The lightning ceases and the clouds disappear in a silence so sudden it seems deafening. Moving away from my brothers I look around the once busy town. Nothing higher than my knee remains standing. In the distance smoke rises from the once mighty gatehouse; the only entrance into the walled town. Now what remains of the wall protects nothing but blood, rubble and corpses.

A job well done.


"Have you been told why you have been called here Norral?"

"No" I responded simply.

I'd received the summons only fourty minutes ago, and asking no questions of the messenger I'd hastened to obey. I had spent time racking my brains during the brief journey, for anything I'd done that would deserve punishment. I waited in front of the elders, nervously looking anywhere but the leaders dark eyes.

"We heard news of your most recent assignment with some disappointment. Under direction of your squadleader, Darak, you initiated a Doom Cloud event. This choice led to the destruction of every citizen of the town of Frenquath. You know, as well as Darak does, the first directive for any assignment is to always leave at least one survivor to report back. I trust you can explain this lapse?"

His eyes burned into me and his aura of power seemed so strong I wavered on my feet. Forcing my eyes away didn't help. Equally hard eyes met me from every elder. I swallowed hard and replied.

"We came under attack sir. They had archers in hidden locations and with Darak's authority I decided to minimise the threat with the actions I took."

"Hmmmm, we've heard of the arrow attack. Never before have they managed to let loose so much as one arrow. How come this time was different?"

The stares still pounded me.

"This town was more than twice the size of anything that's been attacked before Sir. We thought we had it in control but it appears we underestimated them. Given the size, and the circumstances, I felt we had to make an example of them."

Against my wildest expectations the elders start nodding in agreement, and then the leader smiled! Before I could think more on this startling change he spoke again.

"Darak has recommended you for promotion."

My heart pounded at this news. I'd been second in command of Darak's Eraser squad for over a year. Could I finally get a promotion? Surely not after our mistake!

"He reports that in your latest assignment you handled yourself admirably, and saved his life from this lucky arrow shot. You then proceeded to finish the task quickly and efficiently. He recommends you for command of your own team."

This was it. I tried hard to control my excitement. The leader continued.

"Had that arrow succeeded we would have experienced our first ever casualty in this war. I'm sure you can appreciate how damaging the resulting morale boost to our enemies would be. So far we seem invincible and that alone will guarantee far more victories than brute force ever will. We have looked at the rest of your assignment results and after due consideration agree with Darak's recommendation. You will be given a squad of your own to command. Now we shall see just what you are capable of."

"Yes Sir. Thank you Sir," I responded formally.

"It's your choice for this first command. You can choose one from any of these three targets we need to despatch a squad to. You can continue our advancement by taking out the town of Etonreh. You can intercept and destroy a military supply caravan that an advance scouting party has learnt of. Or you can regain control of a bridge that one annoying Captain is holding to the south, preventing our own caravans. What do you choose Eraser Squadleader Norral?"

Click to skip comments and jump straight to Chapter 3

OK, It's a day early, and we've switched sides. There's a new person to look out for. :shock:

Very simple, we have three options to choose from to impress the elders. The town will be the easiest. It doesn't move around, and you are well practiced at it. The military caravan will be tricky. It will involve hard travel, it moves, and will be defended by experienced soldiers. The bridge will be the hardest and more information about it will be given by the elders should you choose this option. Obviously the harder the challenge the more potential to impress there is, however should you lose a brother then expect very severe punishment. Don't even consider dying yourself.:o

A poll will go up on Friday.

Don't worry we'll be catching up with Trengin in Chapter 3 next Tuesday. Each subsequent chapter from now on will switch between Trengin and Norral.

Happy Reading :)

Lightning pics : Here
Sempa Attack: Here
hitbylightning: Here
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Joined: 16 Oct 2004
Posts: 5215
Location: UK

Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2005 10:01 am    Post subject: Chapter 4: A Battle Plan  

I'm releasing this chapter early because I'm not sure the decision point is going to work how I want. If it does work then hopefully a lot of discussion will ensue. Either way I think we need more time than the usual 3 days.

Enjoy... :)

Chapter 4: A battle plan

As I stood there, thinking furiously what option to choose, the Leader repeated the question.

"What do you choose Eraser Squadleader Norral?"

Curiosity won over my safety concerns.

"I choose to recapture the bridge Sir."

The tension in the room gathered like black clouds before a storm. The Leader's face however remained placid.

"You understand that this will be an extremely dangerous mission?"

"I do."

"You will command under the same restrictions as other Squadleaders. Don't allow any member to be killed or visibly harmed."

"Yes Sir."

"However this situation is a special case. You don't need to leave anyone alive. Kill them all."

The leader's eyes burned with such power that it seemed like he could do the job himself with just a thought. I found myself grinning at such a convenient lessening of the restrictions.

"However, this bridge is vital to our plans and it must not be damaged. Kill but don't destroy. Do you understand?"

My smile died as fast as it had arrived. There would be no quick finish like Frenquath. I swallowed hard.

"Yes Sir."

The Leader seemed satisfied and his eyes quietened slightly.

"This bridge is guarded by several hundred entrenched soldiers under the command of a Captain named Hunt. They are well equipped, well fortified and well provisioned. A siege isn't an option."

He paused for a moment, his eyes studying me. As I waited for him to continue I wondered what was so hard about this mission. Soldiers, no matter how well armed, were little more than annoying ants waiting to be squashed.

"You are probably wondering why this has prevented us taking control before now. Since he captured the bridge Captain Hunt hasn't been idle. He acted on knowledge gleaned from the great library of Kubrent that we couldn't know.

He learnt that the bridge was built long ago with the aid of mages with far more power than we have now. The bridge was imbued with a powerful magical shield and he has managed to reactivate it. This circular shield is impervious to any magical forces we have yet conceived and stretches over a wide area."

With force of will alone I managed to stop my jaw from gaping as I tried to grasp what I'd let myself in for. But to my horror the Leader hadn't finished.

"There is some we have learnt of the shield, and I have had the research gathered for you to look over as you make your plans. As you know, a newly appointed Squadleader would normally start his command with a squad of six, but as you have chosen such a difficult task you are granted a full squad of twelve. A list of those to choose from is included in the research."

My face stayed blank as the sheer quantity of different thoughts and emotions rendered me incapable of sorting out how I felt. A squad of twelve on a first command was extraordinary. It had taken Darak over a year to qualify for a full squad. The shield sounded insurmountable but I tried to hold off judgement until I had read the research.

"You are dismissed Eraser Squadleader Norral."

I came to attention and saluted with a fist to the heart. With no further comment, and much relief, I turned around and left. Immediately outside the Council doors a young mage scurried up to me, arms laden with scrolls.

"Squadleader Norral, the research you requested."

"I didn't request anything," I blurted out, too lost in my thoughts to think clearly or even notice the use of my new title.

"It's all we know about Grenton Bridge. I was told you requested it."

He sounded nervous, and I noticed a touch of fear in his eyes. With some pride I snapped out of my confusion and started thinking straight.


"Mavnor Sir," he supplied.

"Very good Mavnor. See that you are more specific what you are delivering next time. Give them to me and be on your way."

He tried to push the armful of scrolls at me but there was no way the transfer would work. Irritated I flicked a wrist at the whelp and he flew backwards, landing hard on the floor surrounded by the scrolls. I gestured again and obediently the scrolls rose up and hovered in the air in front of me. Ignoring Mavnor as he tried to climb to his feet I stalked out with the scrolls following.


Some hours later in my own quarters I sat staring at the limited research with little hope. I'd thrown much of it away as it wasn't useful and I didn't want it distracting me. The remainder I'd read many times but I couldn't see a plan that would keep everyone alive. I hadn't even managed to decide whom to have on the team. Without a plan how could I know which specialists to choose?

In frustration I threw down the quill I'd been making notes with. The ink in the tip splotched over a map and I screamed my annoyance. As I cleared the spillage with a gesture, noting the smudge of ink by the south bank of the river, I closed my eyes and try to calm myself down. Focusing inward I allowed my mind to go blank and slowly I gained control.

My eyes opened with renewed clarity and I picked up the first report again.

Quote: Extract from a recent Grenton Bridge Field Report:

We arrived at the site ready to complete a full evaluation of the shield. Out of sight in a small copse of trees we set about pummeling the shield with every type of magic we could think of. Fire, Spirit, Sonic discharge, lightning; none of it got through.

As soon as a force hit the shield it glowed red highlighting the direction of attack. Within minutes our postion was bombarded with a hail of arrows. We had two squadmembers shielding so nobody was hurt but we had to retreat before the tests were complete.

If something can penetrate the shield we haven't found it yet.

Quote: Exerpt from : A Bridge Apart by Rende T'yulic

Grenton Bridge truly is a bridge apart. Every stone of the bridge and the connecting keep is imbued with protective magics that some of the best minds have contributed to. This creates a barrier to all magics around the structure preventing assault by the arcane.

Be warned though. The shield offers no physical protection. Man and Beast may pass through it without even noticing it. As can anything that isn't magical in nature. That is why the keep was added almost immediately after the bridge was complete. It can comfortably accomodate over 500 soldiers along with training rooms, a clean water source and storage cellars for many years food. Truly it is a mighty keep in it's own right.

Quote: Exerpt from a diary written by someone trying to survive an attacking force over 1000 years ago. Much has been lost through age.

"We're holding them off. Our line of pike soldiers at the boundary is doing well, and our archers pepper their shields with arrows..."

"...No, they are through the boundary. How did they do it? Their magic rips through us like wheat before the scythe..."

"They hunt us through the keep now. Oh Gods I hope they don't find me...Nooooooooooo..."

Quote: A map produced by the shield test squad.

Placing the map down I winced at the smudge. It looked like it had been something important but I couldn't make it out, nor remember what had been there.

I sighed and picked up the last scroll. It was the list of potential squad members and contained many unfamiliar names.

The Elders really wanted to test me!

Two of them were highlighted as being the authors of the first report. They had been to the bridge before and been part of the testing squad. It made sense to include them in my team.

The remaining ten would be a guess but what else could I do? I saw one that specialised in fireballs and another that specialised with water magics. Would either of those stand above the others?

A plan came to mind and I hastily started scrawling it over a piece of paper. Yes, that was worth a try.

Click to move straight to Chapter 5


Ok then guys, some military planning for you.

You have the research available above plus your own imaginations and logic to work out a battle plan for Norral.

How does he try and overcome the shield? Does he choose either of the mages with specialities or just have ten average mages that can do a bit of everything?

Just some of the questions to be answered in your plan of attack.

You have 12 mages at your disposal, use them well.


Poll goes up on Friday,

Happy Planning. :)
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Joined: 16 Oct 2004
Posts: 5215
Location: UK

Posted: Tue Nov 22, 2005 4:54 am    Post subject: Chapter 6: Assault  

Chapter 6: Assault

"Careful Sir, any more than a peek and you risk the sun catching you."

I was stretched out on my stomach, slowly edging closer to the elusive first view of the Bridge and it’s defences.

"If I'm any more careful I'll have wildlife nesting on me. We've been here for hours." I hissed back at my guide. He was equally prone next to me, eyes fixed ahead.

His name was Margn, one of the two who had scouted the bridge before and also the person who made the map. Tall and lithe, he was the closest we had to a scout amongst the mages and he’d already been useful. Having spent much of his youth in woodland he was excellent with tracking and moving unseen and it was only because of his skills that we’d made it here undetected this morning.

Crawling ever so slightly forwards I gestured towards a screen of leaves. A branch obediently moved sideways slowly. Through the tunnel of leaves the Bridge came into view and I just stared at it. Open ground stretched away for several hundred yards before hitting the cliff edge and plummeting to the river swirling below. A road wound it’s way from my right up to the south end. In the far distance I could just make out the road as it continued its way northward on the other side. I couldn’t see any indication of the shield in the bright sunlight.

Turning to my guide I quizzed him. “Where does the shield boundary lie?”

He crawled up next to me and looked through the gap. He frowned in thought for a second and then spoke.

“You see the dark line running along the front there… that looks like a trench, but it wasn’t there before. From what I remember that would be on, or very close to the boundary. The Captain’s been busy!”

“Indeed he has,” I replied more to myself than him as I considered the implications to my plan.

It was then I noticed what had been the ‘smudge’ from the map. It was less of a shock than the trench having asked Margn what the smudge was as soon as I’d left my tent, but it was still disconcerting to see them. Three large catapults stood next to an impressive pile of waiting boulders. If one of those hit a shield it would either kill us all or drain several of us in reinforcing it. The solution was to destroy the boulders in flight but hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

The trench though could be a problem.

“Any idea how wide it is?”

“I would guess at least 6 ft, but who knows what’s in it.”

“Pikes with soldiers attached,” I replied wryly.

Six feet was too wide to jump. However it was no problem to lay a horizontal wall over it and just walk across, but to cast the wall we had to be inside the shield. I let that problem rest for a moment whilst I surveyed the rest of the scene. Soldiers moved all over the bridge like ants; some carried equipment, whole units walked on patrol in formation, others stood on watch from behind low walls. On the other side of the bridge the Keep rose up. Even tinier soldiers could be seen doing much the same tasks on the roof and along the battlements. Ideas wandered through my head as I pondered what I would do to all the soldiers once I was inside. A lesson needed to be taught.

"I've seen enough," I declared as I let go of the spell holding the branch, allowing it to swing back into place. "Let's head back to camp."

Camp was a few miles away. We'd arrived the night before after a quick forced march across country as soon as I'd finished drawing up my plans. Emerging from my tent back at base I'd quickly found Margn and Jarvis (the other mage who had tested the bridge) and told them to gather their belongings for an assault on the bridge. Over the next hour I had sought out each of the other mages on my list and assigned them to my squad.

After a lot of thought I'd decided to take both the specialist mages, their skills not preventing them from performing other magics and possibly proving useful. The fire specialist, named Teron, was an intimidating man, with a temper to match his favoured magic. He'd accepted his place in the mission with a shrug of the shoulders. Karak the water specialist was a quiet brooding man who'd joined us after being blamed for poisoning the local water supply in his hometown. For the first time in his life he was being given the proper opportunity to experiment with his magic without fear of reprisals. He was only too happy to help defend that privilege. The rest were a motley collection of downtrodden, and outcast mages all who realised our right to rule over everyone like the gods we are.

By nightfall everyone had prepared to leave and I'd ordered an immediate departure. With Margn guiding and Jarvis scouting out a head we made fast progress, and managed to avoid contact with anything crossing our path. Once during the journey a lone traveller was discovered but by the time the main group had caught up to Jarvis he'd taken care of him; a small pile of dust was the only remaining trace.

We rested during the day in an area of woodland. We cycled a guard to maintain a wall around the camp whilst we slept, but encountered nothing more dangerous than a passing elk. As dusk arrived we continued the march and just before dawn we made it to a good place for a camp.

It was now a little past noon. I arrived back in the camp to find most of my squad asleep. A quick gesture sent a small bolt of blue light through the trees and I felt the wall fade away. Me and Margn entered the clearing. As I strode through I nodded to the mage on guard duty and felt the wall re-materialise behind us.

"Gather round, final briefing."

I watched with satisfaction as they all jumped to obey my quiet command. Those asleep were quickly wakened and within a few minutes all twelve of my squad stood in front of me.

"Ok I've seen the bridge and it's what we expected. The catapults are still in place so Harop make sure you are alert to them firing blindly through the sand, we don't want a boulder on our heads."

The mentioned mage nodded gravely.

"Shannon, Mulim be ready to put everything you have into the shields if he misses one. I don't care if you drain yourselves, it's preferable to one getting through."

They too nodded, although Shannon, the youngest of the group, was clearly disappointed not to be on offensive. He was very powerful but lacked the control necessary for complicated spells.

"We have an added complication. Hunt has prepared a trench along the boundary of the shield. We don't know what's in it, but rest assured it won't be no wench looking to give you a good time. Stay in formation until I give the signal to pass through."

I turned to Kewor. "You know what you have to do?"

The weathered face looked at me and nodded once. Kewor was the only member on the list that I knew. After working with him in Darak's Squad I knew that he keeps a cool head under pressure and that I would surely need that for this mission. He's my second in command.

"Aye, we'll hold it together, don't you worry."

I turned back to the squad and concluded my speech.

"Once inside maintain your personal shield until Shannon and Mulim confirm the squad shield is in place. Then I will give the signal that you can attack at will. There's a lot of them so remember to focus on your targets and on large groups, don't waste time showing off. We'll, until the final few anyway."

My squad sniggered with me as we all turned to pack up. A few minutes later there was no trace we'd been there and we set off once again with Jarvis scouting out ahead and Margn leading. After only a mile we were led into some scrubs and used the cover to move closer. Once again as we approached the edge of the woodland I was reduced to crawling. As my squad crouched behind me I peered through the gap again. Everything was the same. They hadn't been alerted.

I motioned to Kewor and he slipped around a tree and peered through another bush close by. His two aides for this task followed him. They all closed their eyes and began the complex series of gestures. Kewor's eyes suddenly sprang open and his hand released the spell as his aides did the same. The all ended up with upturned palms nested together in the centre of them.

Immediately the wind picked up around us. One instant it was there and then it was gone as it moved down the slope towards the Bridge. About a hundred yards away it stopped and began to swirl. Dust and sand from the loose soil was swept into the air and coiled around in to a spiral.

More and more lifted up making the wind appear a solid teeming mass of dust, dirt and stones. Kewor's group stepped forward as one and thust their palms outwards and the wind grew exponentially. Within seconds the bridge was obscured from view and suddenly I realised it was time.

"Moving forward," I screamed into the wind. Everyone stood up behind me and the dome of the shield and wall shimmered into view for a second. Formation was formed and we moved out from the woods. I was in the centre, with Shannon and Mulim to my sides. Kewor and his two aides were huddled together on the far right of the shield protected by two others. Harop was directly in front of me, already scanning the skies for any kind of attack. The final mage along with Teron and Karak protected the left side.

The storm hit the shield and the infinitesimal parts of magic that propelled each particle peppered the shield with thousands of tiny red blurs as it was blocked. Almost immediately the storm was through the shield and swept out sideways covering the entire width of the fortifications. In answer a dark hail of arrows flew out of the dust and slipped through the shield. They landed a good way off yet.

"Moving left," I called and as a squad we moved toward one side of the bridge, avoiding the middle. As we passed where the arrows landed a huge piece of rock crashed down and I felt a quick moment of pride at the first decision made well.

"Hold 'et," Kewor cried, and I quickly enforced the stop. Eyes closed once again as the storm group concluded the spell and sent the last gust of wind through the shield. Without being tied up with the spell Kewor immediately moved to the very front of our shield along with one of his aides as the forward attack. The other aide and the two mages stayed on the right.

"Moving forward," I commanded and we ran across the final hundred yards as more arrows fly from the storm in every direction. Only two make it near us, one disintegrating on the shield. A boulder appeared above us but before it had fully emerged from the dark cloud of the storm Harop's arm swung out and it exploded. I watched the approaching trench. The storm was raging directly above it, the rippling of the shield showing clearly where the barrier was. We stopped just before our shield touched it.

I moved forward to talk with Kewor.

"Do it quick."

He quickly gestured the simple rune for a wall against his palm and then without hesitation thrust it through the shield. His palm turned down and he cast it over the trench. The arrow shot upwards from nowhere. His hand rushed backwards but it wasn't fast enough. The arrow passed through the wall and into Kewor's hand, flesh parting with a spray of blood.

"AHHHAHGHHGHHHH, my flaming hand. By the gods it hurts."

"Not now Kewor," I snapped as I pushed past him, vaguely enjoying the scream even from a squad member. I prepared my own spell and shoved my hand through. This time the arrow was faster but it turned to ash as my shield landed onto of the wall spell.


The young mage ran past me and through the shield, his own shield fizzling out and reappearing instantly the other side. That boy was really fast. Seconds later he turned anxiously to me and gestured that he was ready. A crowd of soldiers appear from the dust, visors down on helmets as they charge towards us.


My squad stormed past me and into Shannon's protective dome. As soon as he was through Mulim threw out his arms and took half the pressure from Shannon. Everyone waited, covering his eyes from the storm until I passed through myself. The faintest sensation of cold tickled my skin and I was through. The dome shield sealed behind me and the dust around us immediately settled.

It was time.

I gathered the heat and flames together with a hooked gesture, feeling the power coursing through my body. I twisted my arm, shaping the force as I demanded and then thrust it out. A huge ball of flame erupted from my fingers. It screamed towards the charging soldiers and splintered into them casting their lifeless bodies everywhere. At this signal all hell broke loose as my entire squad (save for Mulim and Shannon) released their power.

Kewor's aide on my right closed his eyes and thrust the storm forward over the bridge to obscure us from the soldiers on the other side, and to give us better vision. As the dust moved away men became visible everywhere, and arrows immediately began thudding into our shield.

Harop swung round to face the catapults on the far west of the bridge as they slowly began shifting around to aim at us. His arms chopped down before I could stop him and twin bolts of lightning shot from the sky only to bounce harmlessly off the shield.

"You fool, only use spells from inside the shield," I screamed at him.

They fired and three boulders soared into the sky. One immediately disintegrated at a grunt from Harop, followed by a second as he thrust out a bolt of red force. The third bore down on us and I rose my hands to intercept it. As I released my spell I roared to Shannon and Mulim.


My hasty spell collided with the rock splitting it in half. Part landed in the trench causing a delightfully surprised death scream but the other half smashed into the shield. Mulim wobbled slightly but Shannon just laughed. Seconds later the huge pile of boulders waiting to be fired rose under Harop's control. His face a dark red from rage he powered the entire pile into the catapults and any soldiers nearby. They were swiftly buried in the avalanche of rock.

Teron on my left started the attack laughing manically as he turned behind us and swept his hand along the trench. Huge flames roared up from the entire length instantly followed by a cacophony of screams. One arm briefly appeared over the top, but quickly fell back in to be consumed by the inferno.

With no more threat from behind he turned back to the front where Karak quickly manifested a huge patch of ice beneath the hooves of a small unit of cavalry that was charging forwards with lances lowered. With a gargantuan effort one managed to throw a lance forward, using his momentum before his horse crashed to the floor. It soared through the air, but the mage next to the water mage flicked it away with disdain before it hit the shield, and gritting his teeth with effort managed to manipulate its path through the chest of its former owner. The soldier died just before Karak impaled the tangled mess of horses and riders by thrusting the ice beneath them upwards into a field of spikes. The ice ran red.

In front of me Kewor had quickly destroyed the arrow through his hand, and sealed the wound as best he could. Kewor's anger made Harop seem calm, his good hand moving rapidly dealing death everywhere. Huge waves of arrows swung backwards and hit the firers followed by scores of dark red bolts that erupted from his hand homing in on soldiers hiding behind sandbag walls.

The storm had worked well. Many of the soldiers still weren't aware that we were attacking. Whole groups crawled on the ground clutching their eyes, or suffering from coughing fits. I made sure they didn't join the fight, squashing them together with spell walls, delighting in their confused screams. I really loved the screams.

"Move forward," I ordered as I noticed a flight of arrows emerge from the other side of the bridge. News of our arrival had made it to the keep. We needed to finish this quickly.

As a whole we moved forward, my squad extinguishing any life that appeared, the stench of burning flesh everywhere.

"It's not a barbecue Teron, leave some for the rest of us," I joked. The fire mage just continued laughing as he quickly scorched a huddle of three soldiers that came into view behind a pile of dead bodies.

We started across the bridge, and quickly saw an entire squad of 50 soldiers proceeding towards us.

"Allow me," Karak yelled, as he pushed himself to the front of our shield.

"Ok Karak, they’re all yours."

Karak crouched down, and I could feel him drawing power. A low rumbling echoed somewhere far down below us. The rest of my squad around me stopped and stared at the water mage. What was he doing? He came to his feet quickly, his hand tracing gestures I didn't recognise on his palm. Just as he went to cast it, he voiced a rare vocal rune and the rumble became a roar. He flung out his hand toward the advancing men and two huge columns of water shot upwards from either side of the bridge, striking the soldiers from both sides. Most were immediately flung off the bridge to plummet to their deaths, whilst a few were smashed with the full force of the water into the sidewalls. Their skulls cracked instantly. The water drained away leaving nothing alive.

A smiling Karak turned back to me.

"Nice Karak, very nice," I applauded. "OK Squad let's keep moving, a whole keep full of men left to kill."

Yet another hail of arrows flew through the air towards us.

"They don't give up with the arrows..." The words died on my lips as I felt the air ripping under the magical onslaught. From the distant keep it stormed towards our shield, quickly overtaking the approaching arrows.


It was too late. Time slowed as the force slammed into the shield and twin screams of anguish from Shannon and Mulim announced faster than I could that our shield was penetrated. I raised my hands and released my intended fireball not towards the keep, but the mass of arrows instead. They plummeted down as my spell sped towards them. It had to get them.

I could see Shannon and Mulim had begun the gestures to recast the shield, but they weren't going fast enough. I watched as my fireball continued into the sky and saw it consume most of the arrows. The remaining ones kept falling.

Shannon was fast and cast the wall as the first arrow sailed through. Mulim was a second behind and the glowing shield caught the rest of the arrows. With horror I stare at the black-feathered arrow as it plunged through the back of Karak's head, his smile at my compliment still on his face. As he crumpled to the floor time caught up with me and I screamed to my squad.


Skip discussion and go straight to Chapter 7

Norral's plans have gone well so far, but something he couldn't have foreseen means he needs help to finish this battle alive.

He is sure that the force he felt means a mage is somewhere in the keep, and that mage has already assisted in getting a squad member killed.

If you can get every soldier killed then hopefully the knowledge of a mage casualty can be kept secret, but that's something you will have to face when/if you report to the Elders.

All the team is still fairly energetic, however they've just witnessed the first loss of a squad member. Kewor is injured but still capable of fighting, and Shannon and Mulim are doing ok with the shield, although if the mage pounds it anymore then it will drain them quickly.

What are your priorities? What are your plans?


Pictures: Sandstorm, Catapult, Death
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Posted: Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:51 am    Post subject: Chapter 8: Finishing the job  

Chapter 8: Finishing the job

My frantic warning about the enemy's mage fell on deaf ears as the entire team watched Karak's body slump to the floor as if he'd simply drank too much liquor.

We all knew we could die, (a fundamental flaw of our human bodies) but years of complete victory had filled us with a complacency that belied the fact that the vast majority of mages weren't on our side. It hadn't mattered though; they weren't on the human's side either. They hid in dark places like worms, lower even than the filth we fought. Either that or they had become Emflikar and therefore no threat to us. The elder’s commands echoed through my mind. No you realise the moral boost it would give our enemies!

It took the twin cries of Shannon and Mulim reporting yet another magical assault on the shield to snap me out of my shock, but it also simultaneously made the decision in my head. None of the enemy could survive to tell of this, they all had to die and that included the mage. Surely the elders would understand?

"KEWOR," I yelled, "get them moving. We need to get in range."

The veteran looked up and immediately snapped out of his own shock and began issuing orders, almost idly sending a column of flame screaming towards a small group of soldiers that had peered around some sandbags. I left him in command whilst I quickly turned to Karak's body.

Making sure none of my team were watching I closed my eyes and moved my left wrist slowly in circles. My right hand joined it, twisting over and over in the complicated gesture. A small spark rose up from the body and hovered over it. I chopped my hands down and the spell was completed. A brief flash left nothing but a black marking against the stone as I felt Karak's remaining magical energy augment my own.

It filled me up, threatening to consume me, but then I felt my mind flex and grow to accommodate the extra power. My eyes opened and I was pleased to see everyone was too busy engaging the soldiers to notice what I'd done.

Kewor's orders came back into my awareness.

"…get that shield reinforced. You two, join Mulim and Shannon, it mustn't fail again."

I took over again.

"Good job Kewor, back in formation. We're moving forwards again, no mercy."

My team started moving again, bringing us towards the end of the bridge and the edge of the storm.

"We need to see, get rid of this storm," I commanded. Almost immediately the dust began to die and the Keep rose up out of the cloud. On the ground no men were in sight, although a hail of arrows peppered the shield from the roof of the keep.


I immediately looked up, tracking the burning orb from where it came. He was definitely in the keep. Unusually it dissolved quite a distance before hitting our shield, small sparks floating to the ground. What was he doing?

We carried on forward past the fortifications at the end of the bridge and once again on to dry land. Suddenly soldiers appeared from everywhere. They jumped up from behind concealed walls, out of covered holes. Cavalry seemed to float out from behind the keep and spearmen appeared behind us. Against equal odds it would have been an impressive ambush, but what were they doing, they'd be killed easily?

If it was possible the deaths came quicker and even more brutal than before. Filled with anger at Karak's death my team caused carnage. Limbs were ripped off the charging horses and riders, ensuring massive pain before their victims lives were promptly ended. Teron was no longer laughing, and his victims no longer ran around on fire. His eyes were hard as he moved from target to target reducing them to ash instantly in an awesome display of focused power.

No more arrows hit the shield as Meine (one of the mages original helping Kewor with the sandstorm) destroyed them in the air long before they got close. If he spotted an archer they quickly found themselves festooned with the contents of their quiver.

Feeling fresh from my power boost I held up both hands and slammed two walls together smashing the men inside. I left it slightly apart, crushing them slowly, painfully, before ending their lives. It always paid to prolong the screams.

Behind me more conventional death occurred. The pike men's weapons flew backwards impaling them grotesquely. The entire squad fell to the ground looking like a huge butchered hedgehog.

I noticed then we were all using too much power; even Shannon holding the shield was throwing out a small angry fireball at anything that moved.

"CALM DOWN, we need power to finish this. Almost time."

The Keep loomed above us, but no more magic issued from it. A grin formed on my face, the mage was hiding. We moved forward, almost within range. Yet more men appeared from around the keep, sword free as they sprinted towards us. Were they just suicidal, how did Hunt get them to throw their lives away so easily?

Embarrassingly I stumbled forward over the armoured leg of a dead soldier. I looked down to reduce the offending obstacle to ash only to see the sparks that had floated down from the failed fireball. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I didn't have time to tell Shannon or Mulim. My hands moved like a blur as I put as much strength as I dared into a new shield. With not a fraction of a second to spare I cast it to the floor beneath our feet. The ground exploded as the small sparks suddenly blew up. I felt my shield take the force and gritted my teeth as it flowed outwards. The concussion hit the unshielded ground around us sending soil and rocks high into the air obscuring us in a cloud of dirt.

Anger at the mage threatened to consume me; I would see him dead.

"What the hell was that?" Kewor shouted.

"The mage, he's smart," I replied. "We need to take him out now. I've had enough of this. We have the bridge we don't need the Keep. Take it out."

"Are you sure Sir."

"YES, do it NOW before he realises his trick didn't work.

With my orders clear my squad moved efficiently. We were still obscured from view as we began the first gestures of the doom cloud spell. This time I was the centre and I felt the combining of energy the gestures created. Each of my team sent their energy to me, tightly bound for release. I felt the power as it coursed through my body like intoxicating liquor. I could feel it filling every fibre, making the boost from Karak earlier seem a small puddle compared to an ocean. Carefully I shaped it with a new gesture and with some reluctance I pointed at the keep and released the awesome force.

Usually this spell was used over a wide area, like a town. This situation was different. If I used cloud based lightning it would just hit the shield and whilst it would be an interesting experiment to see if the shield could take that much of a pounding I couldn't afford to waste the power.

Instead the alteration I did before releasing it manifested the clouds directly above the keep, but beneath the shield, at the expense of power. The limited diameter of the keep made this loss negligible. With delight I watched as the dust settled around us and a thousand bolts of lightning hammered in to the huge stone blocks.

For a heart-stopping second silence descended as mage and soldier alike stopped and stared, in triumph and horror respectively. Nothing seemed to happen to the keep, but then a low rumbling vibrated out in contrast to the ripping boom of the lightning. With an almighty roar the entire structure exploded outwards. A mushroom cloud shot straight up, and through the top of the shield into the sky.

"BACK UP, LETS GET AWAY," I screamed as I added my strength to the shield. "EVERYONE REINFORCE THE SHIELD NOW."

I felt the shield swell just in time as a the debris from the explosion engulfed us. Amidst the cloud of rock and dust a huge piece of stone, that dwarfed those the catapults had thrown, shot towards us. With a crack it split in two thanks to the quick thinking of Kewor, but he couldn't stop it all. The remainder smashed into the shield and we all felt the force it hit with. The shield held easily, reinforced by all twelve of us, but we couldn't take many more like that. Our retreat became a jerky run as we moved as fast as we could within the confines of the shield. Sweat glistened from Shannon's face, and Mulim looked exhausted. No more large blocks of stone hit but the sheer quantity of smaller pieces was beginning to tell.

Finally the dust ahead began to thin and we could see ahead. We kept moving, blindly holding on and thinking only of maintaining the shield. We fell through the bridge shield boundary without realising we were there. Our shield dissolved around us on contact as we all hit the ground. I came to my feet immediately and cast a shield around us again, drawing on my extra reserves from Karak's death.

Skip discussion and go straight to Chapter 9



The Keep is destroyed and you've made it away to relative safety.

Your team is pretty tired.

Do you immediately set off back to main base to report to the elders? Do you linger around and see if there are any survivors? Do you insist on searching until the body of the mage is found? Or do you do something else?

You're pretty convinced no non-shielded person could have survived the destruction with all the debris, so is it worth wasting the time looking? The sooner you report to the elders the less likely it will be they'll have heard of the events second hand, giving you better oportunity to explain your actions.


Happy Discussion. :)

Pics: Casting spell, and Exploding keep
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Posted: Tue Jan 24, 2006 9:04 am    Post subject: Chapter 10 : Aftermath  

Chapter 10 : Aftermath

With a few coughs and much groaning my squad gathered in to some semblance of order. I badgered them with muttered threats, but I wasn't feeling much better myself. Mulim was first to start thinking and quickly took over the shield from me as I decided what to do.

The Elders wouldn't be happy that Karak had been killed, but the presence of an enemy mage was entirely unpredictable. If I took evidence that I'd killed the mage it might placate them, especially if I could report all witnesses killed.

"OK I want to confirm no one survived, in particular the mage."

"No one would survive that Sir."

I wheeled round to the unsuspecting fool, flicking a palm out as I did. He flew backwards and hit the inside wall of the shield with a crunch.

"Idiot. Do you want to go back to the Elders without being absolutely sure? Do you want to explain to them that not only did we witness the first death of a Chosen, but then failed to make sure none hear of this?"

"Maybe we shouldn't go back?"

A new voice; this time it was the fire specialist, Teron. I looked him in the eye and saw his fear but also a determination.

"You really think that is an option?" My voice was calmer; I needed to handle this right.

"We could stay here, hold the bridge." He shrugged self-consciously; a marked difference from his casual confidence during the battle.

"Well let's stamp that idea out now as well. You know as well as I, anything they might do to us for failure will be like a lovers kiss compared to what they do to traitors...deserters. Do you think they'd spare one Chosen, or rest for a single minute until every one of us was captured and sent to the Teachers?"

They all winced at the thought.

"Anyone else with a bright idea?"

I scanned their faces. All showed that they had no further arguments. With a curt gesture to Kewor we moved back through the boundary shield. Our shield fizzled out again, but I held Mulim back from recasting.

"Be ready," I warned, "but save your strength for now." He nodded in understanding and I noted him preparing the runes against his palm for near instant casting.

"I want eyes alert, even a hint of movement and you destroy it."

With no shield we spread out a little, although not too much. With simple gestures we combed the debris, rolling rock and stone out the way to uncover any potential hiding places. All we uncovered were bodies that were quickly checked for signs of life.

We passed the entrance to the bridge. Some fairly large boulders littered the causeway, but no damage seemed evident. Directly in front of us was the mountain of rubble that had been the Keep. This wasn't going to be as easy as I'd hoped.

Carefully directed we slowly levitated the largest pieces of rubble and tossed them into the ravine to land in the river below. After an hour the toll on our powers was telling and several pieces slipped from our control and landed before the edge. In annoyance at this slow task I punched out towards a particularly offending slab of rock and it hurtled into thin air, crashing on the other side of the cliff before plummeting into the water. We'd still not found anything alive.

Once again Kewor approached me and quietly whispered his doubts.

"I think it's safe to assume they all died. We've found no one and the squad is dead on its feet."

"How do I make myself clear Kewor? I want an exhaustive search. Not a half-ass search, not a search until you're out of breath. Next time someone complains to you explain to them that they're next in the river."

Annoyingly he sighed, but nodded his understanding and moved back into place. Almost immediately there was a shout from the top of the rubble where one of my squad was directing the choice of rocks to move.

"Up here Sir, I think I've found somet'ing."

I swiftly climbed to him and looked down at his finding. It was a strange hole in the rubble, perfectly spherical. Realisation instantly dawned on me. The mage!


I scrambled back down, trying to look around as I did. A sensation in the air told me not to halt. As I hit the bottom I felt the shield as it enclosed around me and then it instantly vanished with a yelp from Mulim.

"MAGE TO THE NORTH," yelled Kewor.

Mulim reacted fast and once again the shield re-appeared around me quickly reinforced by other members of my squad.

"Do we have a visual, where is he?"

"Over there Sir, just in the edge of the trees."

As I finally found our target I was just in time to watch the small figure raise its arms and cast another shimmering force towards us. At the same time twin balls of force left two of my squadmembers palms in retaliation. The shimmering force smashed into the shield but no one gave a murmur. Concentration covered every face as my squad focused.

The edge of the woodland exploded in a ball of flames as our attack hit target. The mage was lost to view. Four fireballs rose from around me and swiftly followed the path of the earlier ones. With pride I noted the precision of the strikes.


Instantly, as one, we were trotting forward, closing the distance quickly. A few minutes later we were within the burning remains of the bushes marking the beginning of the forest. Right in the middle of the carnage the mage lay unconscious in a slight circular depression. The still burning fire was nowhere near him but the impact of the spells must have been too much for his shield.

"Take him alive, we're done here." I hissed.

Instantly two members of my team gestured at the prone figure and a shimmering shield encircled him. Flanking him on either side they initiated another spell and he rose a few feet off the ground. As the rest of my squad prepared to move out I suddenly realised that I needed some to remain behind and hold the place until reinforcements could be sent to hold it permanently.

Who could I trust? How many should stay? Should any of us stay? The questions flew through my tired mind.

Pic found by RLZ

Skip to Chapter 11

Ok - a fairly short chapter but the Bridge is finally secured. Better still, you've managed to capture the mage alive. Excellent work. I'm sure the Elders will be happier with you. :)

But you still need to get back safely and captured mages aren't a piece of cake to keep contained. Along with the questions Norral raised at the end, do you also save yourself some bother and kill the mage now?

Please discuss here.

Happy Reading. :)
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Posted: Mon Feb 06, 2006 10:11 am    Post subject: Chapter 12 : Captive in tow  

Chapter 12 : Captive in tow

"Kewor, I want you to stay here and hold until a resident Squad comes to relieve you. Mulim, Shannon and Harop will join you."

"Yes Sir." My second showed no signs of pleasure or displeasure at the extended mission. Maybe he didn't fancy trying to get the prisoner back any more than I did. It was a vital development though, one I had to report to the Elders personally if I wanted to keep hold of my promotion.

The three others who would stay with him moved away from the group and followed Kewor back through the bridge shield.

"Alright, it's a two day journey back with stops for sleep. I want to be back in one day. No rest, no complaining, no excuses."

I looked for signs of complaint but they were all stone-faced.

"As for him," I growled, pointing at the captive. "I want him in agony for the entire journey, and ready for spilling all he knows by the time he's hauled in front of the Elders. Do you two have a good hold on him?"

"Yes Sir."

I stared at the levitated form. It was time to wake sleeping beauty but first I had to try something.

"I want all of your to turn away until I say, but maintain your hold on that shield."

With some muttering and confusion they obeyed and looked away. It wouldn't do to see what I was about to try. As far as I know no one alive knows how to do it, but it also wouldn't do for them to start experimenting.

With one last check at my team I closed my eyes and performed the same gestures I had to absorb the remaining power in Karak's body. Never had I dared to try it on a mage that was alive for fear of retribution, but here was the perfect opportunity.

I felt the rune shape itself around his body, coiling tighter around the rigid form. Already this was unusual; a dead body puts up no resistence. Suddenly the coil reached his head and it vanished in through his mouth, nose and ears. I was in.

Instantly his power coursed through me, almost as intoxicating as when I'd been the node for the doomcloud spell. Almost at the same time it was wrenched back by something. I forced the spell in deeper and felt the connection reconnect. I drew the power as fast as I could, willing my mind to absorb it. Again the link was severed. The mage's mind was fighting back. Without warning the spell collapsed around me and I was thrown backwards.

A coughing fit from the prisoner brought my awareness back just seconds later, and also announced his own return to consciousness. Despite the difficulties I could feel the success of my attempt coursing through me. I'd done it. Stolen power from a live source. Involuntarily I shivered at the possibilities.

My team were still facing away from the captive, but as such were all staring at me on the floor. Ignoring their questioning faces I stood back up and performed a more rudimentary spell. A delicious scream accompanied by the distinct popping sound confirmed the slow breaking of each of his fingers. One by one they bent back of their own accord until the bone gave way under the magical onslaught. Each one brought a renewed scream that caused me to shiver again.

"OK you can turn round again. Teron, maybe you could make his feet uncomfortable, and if someone could dislocate his shoulders."

Suddenly my squad were all grins. Teron instantly obliged and even I winced as the ends of his feet suddenly ignited. The flames travelled quickly along the length and vanished almost as suddenly leaving excrutiating scorched remains from toe to heel. Before the screams were anywhere near complete his arms were suddenly wrenched backwards and twisted bringing a pitch of scream I hadn't heard since one time when passing the Teachers tents.

Unable to withstand the pain anymore the mage passed out.

"Let's get moving."


We made swift progress. Whenever the mage came round his position was merely changed to allow either his fingers or feet to drag painfully across the rough terrain until he passed out again. Once he managed to hold back the screams long enough to mutter and curse at us but a flick of the wrist from Macus broke his nose and he didn't say another word.

It was getting harder though. We still maintained the inverse shield around him, and that was draining us. Each of my team had already taken a turn at holding it, and we still had a half dozen leagues to go. Without rest their powers were barely recharging at all before it became their turn again. In the end I had to take drastic measures. All eight of us linked together lessening the load on each of us, but meaning no reprieve would be gained until we made it back. With just a few miles to go I was holding it almost by myself as my squad could do little more than keep up although they all managed to put what they had left into it. The strain was telling on me as well, despite my two power boosts.

"AGGGHHHHH." The scream rent the air as our captive came awake yet again. Wearily I manipulated his position to drag both fingers and feet along the floor but my concentration slipped and he just fell to the floor. He nose hit first causing a spray of blood to hit the shield. He didn't scream though. The silence alerted me to the change as loudly as if he'd screamed it out. Once again though I had no time to warn my squad. A fraction of a second later the spray of blood was followed by everything the mage had. It was magic in it's rawest form, with no direction or control. Suicide was the clear intention.

The shield was a truly impressive structure. It attracted magic like iron to a lodestone. As soon as he released his attack the shield sucked it away from his body like a sponge. The force of it slammed through my squad and I, throwing us to the floor and draining the last from all but me. My eyes watered and my head span as I tried to hold the shield. The pain became too much for our captive and mercifully he passed out again. Around me my squad were crying out and clutching their heads. A mage draining himself on his own usually manages to avoid the pain, but when it is forced out of you suddenly after such an exhausting time the risk becomes much greater. With horror I realised each of them teetered on a knife-edge. If they fell off one way then they'd become an Enflikar; fall the other way and the spark of magic would be burnt out of them. Staying conscious despite the pain was all they could do.

I watched their personal battles in sick fascination. Ordinarily the quantity of screams would have filled me with delight, but a desperate plea seemed to ring out behind each one and I was sickened.

The only warning I had for what happened next was the sudden relief of pressure from maintaining the shield.

"What in the Seven Hells is all this screaming. "

"It's a squad. Look that's Teron, and Macus. What's the matter with them all?"

"Beats me, but it's getting on my nerves. And who's in the bubble? That's no Chosen."

I managed to climb to my feet and stare at the arrivals. I instantly recognised them from my old squad and raised my voice above the din to greet them.

"Hinro, Stuni. Thank the Elders, you arrived just in time."

"Well slap me around, if it ain't old Norral. What happened to the rest of your squad, and why are the rest of them screaming."

"No time Hinro, they're just drained and exhausted. Have you got a good hold of that shield, the hellspawn inside just tried to take himself out, and damn near took my squad with him."

Hinro looked worried for a second, and turned to his companion. Stuni immediately completed the complicated gestures and cast the rune. Hinro's face visibly relaxed although the persistant screaming still prevented his complete ease.

"Where are the rest of your squad?" Stuni's deep, slow voice belied his nature, masking a quick mind and a cunning mage.

"Back at Grenton Bridge waiting reinforcements to be sent. I need to report to the Elders at once."

Stuni nodded in understanding and then pointed at the captive.

"How we moving him?"

I grimaced in annoyance.

"We've levitated him this far, but he's shown he isn't deserving of such niceties. Drag him back like the sack of bones he is. Make sure you don't miss any rocks."

Stuni grinned and his hands moved in a blur and then without watching just turned around and walked off, Hinro close behind. Both the captive's arms rose into the air as if someone was holding them. His screams rose anew as his dislocated shoulders yanked at his body and dragged him after the two Chosen.

"Oi, hold up," I yelled after them. They paused and turned back to me. I pointed at my squad. "I can't just leave them." I then pointed at my captive. "And I'm not letting him out my sight."

I ran up to them, hands already performing the gestures I'd hoped to never use again after the last two days. I cast it out, taking my share of the shield again. My knees buckled but I kept my feet.

"You," I said pointing at Hinro. "Stay behind and watch them. I don't want any of them becoming Emflikar. I'll send a squad to help them to the healers as soon as I can."

He spluttered, and looked on the verge of laughing. A quick look to my eyes and he immediately realised two things. I wasn't joking, and I was his superior now.

"Yes Chosen," he answered formally and retreated back to my screaming squad.


Stuni had a good, stable hold on the shield; combined with the added pain of transportation via dragging, the mage wasn't any trouble for the rest of the journey. In a little over half an hour we were walking through the fringes of the encampment, being greeted and fetching stares from any who saw us.

We ignored them all, and marched straight through the camp to the secure cells. To our surprise there was already a crowd outside, and the Cell Guardian was a large figure moving through them, stopping to frown at a scroll.

I spotted someone I knew and called him over.

"Hey Gororo, what's the fuss?"

"Elders have sent Darak and Bruos to the Cells before going to the Teachers."

"DARAK." The shock made me gape.

"Yep, got four of his squad killed going after some caravan."

"He just took out Frenquath, how'd he lose Chosen against a caravan?"

"Claims they had mages, took 'em by surprise. Elders ain't happy."

I bolt of nerves jumped in my stomach.

"I've got to go report now, boy am I glad I've got him."

"You caught one! Wow he's in bad shape. What'd he do to piss you off?"

"Breathed," I replied tightly and made my excuses.

Once a little distance away I stopped and turned to Stuni.

"Can you get him put in a cell? I'm going to see the Elders straight away. If the mages are getting involved in more than one place they are going to want to know about him immediately."

He nodded once and I moved off, speaking to no one, seeing little.

Four dead mages! I hadn't doubted the truth for a second. I knew Darak wouldn't have been taken by surprise lightly and that meant more mages were fighting back. Were they connected? Organised? Questions for the Elders but they came quickly to mind. Before I knew it I was infront of their enclave. The guard eyed me but didn't move as I walked by. Out of sight I took a moment to compose myself. I was exhausted, excited and nervous and it wasn't a good combination. With a final deep breath I strode in.

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Skip to the next chapter


Ok - the chapter has gone on long enough and I'm pulling the same trick as I did with Trengin.

I want you to think about the situation. Not from Norral's point of view, but the Elders instead.

They will soon learn that mages have offered resistence in two seperate locations. One ended well, with a captive. The other, death of four Chosen.

How are the Sempa going to proceed.

Do they continue as they are until more confirmed attacks - maybe it's a one-off freak event.

Do they make the squads larger?

Maybe make shielding a standard practice?

Or grander plans (think Dark Lord, armies etc) ?

Also any thoughts about Norral, what he might say to the Elders, what he might hold back or reveal etc.

Discuss your masterplan here. :)
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Posted: Thu Apr 06, 2006 11:19 am    Post subject:  

Chapter 14 a : The Chosen

All thirteen of the Elders were arrayed in front of me; the Leader in the middle with six Elders to either side of him. They looked like an Eraser squad and that was no coincidence. They were the first ever Eraser squad, the very first Chosen.


Not much is known of the Leader's youth, but some have dared the occassional question and a piece-meal history has been slowly gathered. Sick of political restrictions and laws governing the use of magic the Leader had become what men called a Sempa: a magic lawbreaker.

This wasn't such a big deal, Sempa weren't uncommon and they concerned men no more than other criminals. It was the nature of Sempa not to trust anyone, believing the whole world against them for their gift. As such they rarely caused much trouble before someone stuck an arrow or pike through them as they slept or as they staggered about drunk on alcohol & magic. If they met other Sempa they were distrustful and wary. Usually the encounter, however brief, would leave only one of them walking away. Many became Emflikar, little more than incoherent beggars on the street.

The Leader was different. As a young mage he had become disillusioned, as we all had, with the laws from the capital, Sosulv. He rebelled, causing several fires during robberies in his home village, one of the highest laws in the Great Forest of the North. His control was minimal though, and despite his powers he was run out by the locals.

Wandering the countryside he stole from travellers and existed almost in isolation for a number of years as he slowly learnt to control his magic better. As he turned twenty he found a desire to return to civilisation and by coincidence was close to Sosulv. He entered the strange clearing in the forest that held the huge city and stared in awe. The village-boy spent many weeks just looking around, only using his powers secretly to get food when he needed it.

Bit by bit he became accustomed to the place. He learnt the alleys, and sidestreets; he knew the roads and avenues. It wasn't long before he dared attempts at larger crimes. Slowly he acquired wealth and aquaintences that knew him by reputation and it wasn't long before he encountered his first Sempa in the city.

He'd been ruthless with them during his wanderings outside the city, but now he changed his tact. He befriended the mage, using his wealth and wits to gain a trust. This Sempa was far more adept with runes than the Leader was, but not nearly as powerful. The Leader slowly manipulated him into teaching all he knew before killing him, and he did this for a number of years with numerous Sempa as well as some law-abiding mages he managed to charm. By the time he reached thirty he was considered a master in a number of arts.

He left the capital and went travelling, his thirst for knowledge only awakened by what he'd learnt during his decade there. Anywhere and everywhere he could gain access, either through charm or covert force, he did and absorbed what rune knowledge he could before moving on. That all changed though once he found the Sollone Library. He'd travelled almost as far as the Deadzone, that rings the middle of this world, to reach it.

The Sollone Library was one of the biggest of all time. A huge marble structure set into the side of a mountain. It had a large collection of rune-based works, including the only known books containing instruction from Alchien!

Such a powerful mage of antiquity was a large draw to the Leader and the extreme journey to get there didn't put him off. The curator of that time was a powerful mage known as Retonan. In his mid-thirties he was surprisingly young to have risen to his position and it spoke volumes of his talent, not only as a mage, but also a scholar.

The Leader charmed Retonan as he had so many mages before, talking at length of his travels and discoveries much to the delight of the young curator. Retonan responded in kind, displaying vast knowledge of the library's contents and passing on needed knowledge of the Deadzone. Their conversations lasted hours. The Leader spent over a year studying at the library, becoming fast friends with Retonan, and refining many of his skills. Between them they advanced the field of magic; discovering several new rune combination techniques and also the complex shield (or 'bubble' as it is nicknamed) I'd used to bring the captive back. They even ventured through the Deadzone, relying on each other's considerable talents to survive the bitter cold.*

Something in Retonan connected with the Leader because when he decided to move on he didn't kill as he had before, but merely left with goodbyes and promises to stay in touch.

After his time in Sollone the Leader returned to Sosulv as fast as he could. A fire burned in his heart, and a plan formed in his mind. Once he'd arrived back in the capital he wasted little time investing the savings he'd left behind in a large building which he quickly established as a school for magical learning. Being the first of its kind in living memory local mages flocked to it, keen to learn faster than their own experiments could ever teach them. Many were turned away, lacking the tuition fees the Leader demanded, but some few paid up and joined.

Older, more experienced, mages soon heard of it as well and after testing them the Leader gave them jobs conducting research. In just a couple of years the magical progression was astounding and much that was lost from Alchien's time was rediscovered as well as new skills never mentioned in Alchien's few books. Despite their success the capital wasn't happy with it. Research into the Leader's background had revealed his Sempa history and the rulers of Sosulv were suspicious of his 'school'. His secrecy, and flat refusal for admission to any non-mage only made them more suspicious. They made life difficult for the Leader, passing laws that allowed raids by the guards and even some short-term imprisonment when they accused him of theft of a magic artifact they discovered.

Then one night the Leader, and eleven of the best mages in the school, vanished. The money disappeared too, and soon after (with the city's insistence) the school closed; the remaining mages left bewildered at the strange event.

Far away in Sollone, Retonan received his first message from the Leader since he left years before promising to keep in touch. He asked that Retonan meet him in a remote location for a proposal. Intrigued, and also missing his friend, Retonan arranged to leave immediately. It took him a month of travelling, but he made it to the small village to find the Leader there with eleven other mages all sat in a semi-circle as if awaiting his arrival.

The Leader explained the proposal and explained why their actions were necessary. Magic was a divine gift, and man shouldn't stand in the way of those special few, those Chosen, that have command of the gift. Man needed to realise that mages weren't puppets for their strings, nor jesters for their amusement. A mage's rightful place was to rule.

Along with the eleven around him, the Leader knew that Retonan thought alike, having carefully selected and moulded him during their time together. Retonan's dark eyes gleamed as the power-rush passed through him. The eleven stood up with smiles and matching gleams as they welcomed him.

The first Eraser group was born.


I pulled out of my reverie realising that one of the Elders had spoken. I looked to the speaker, sat directly to the Leaders left. His dark eyes weren't as piercing but they still rocked me slightly on my feet, exhaustion still very present in my head. With a strain I managed to recall what Retonan had said.

"We are glad to see you return, Squadleader Norral, and hope to hear much better news from you than your old squadleader. Report."

I nodded my head slightly and began, just managing to hide a wince at what would happen to Darak.

"Grenton Bridge is captured Sir. My second, Kewor, holds it now, along with three more of my squad."

"Excellent," he began, but the Leader cut over the top, eyes burning into me again. "Casualties?"

" Sir. Captain Hunt had an unknown mage in the Keep. Took us by surprise. Also Kewor suffered an arrow injury."

I mentally slapped myself for stammering. The Elders said nothing and the silence grated on me.

"But I captured the mage and have brought him back. He's in the cells."

"Did anyone witness these casualties?" The leader persisted. I suddenly felt more confident, realising I'd done the right thing.

"None left alive now Sir, save for the captive."

"Can you explain why you left so few Chosen to hold the bridge?"

"Yes sir. I needed the rest of my team to bring the mage back. We were all pretty drained after the battle, and it took every one of us to maintain the bubble until we got back."

I mentioned the bubble specifically to appeal to the Leader. As its inventor he would be well aware of the complexities and power demands for maintaining it during the march. It seemed to work as he slowly nodded, but his eyes were suddenly glazed as if looking far away, and then they closed briefly.

The action tickled a memory, a memory from long ago...


"Just keep watch would you," the voice cried out impatiently.

I was nervous, looking around urgently. "I am doing," I whined in reply. "But hurry up. Drew will notice one of his pets missing soon."

I watched the glazed, far-off look with agitation, a rune ready on my palm if necessary.


With a gasp I recognised it. The Leader was spirit-travelling. I'd only known one other mage capable of that!

His eyes suddenly snapped open, cutting off further thought.

"We must question this captive immediately. Have him brought here now."

"Yes Sir."

I retreated out the room and found a Chosen wandering down the hall idly.

"You, bring the captive mage quickly."

He turned with a sneer that vanished when he recognised me, nodded and stalked off. I returned to the chamber and was surprised to find all the Elders now had their eyes closed. Could they all do it? The door closed behind me clearly announcing my presence yet they didn't move, their eyes remained closed.

Gently moving just one finger of my hand I slowly traced out the delicate rune that would reveal some of what the Elders did. As softly as I could I released the spell and watched it travel around the room, barely touching their heads. The spell altered my vision and I stared at the Elders. A pale green cord seemed to float over the top of them, thin tendrils hanging down to connect to each one. A much thicker one connected the Leader's head to the main trunk. The shock almost made me gasp aloud, but I managed to clamp my mouth shut. We could share power in a manner, when completing spells like the Doom Cloud, but this was more intricate by far. It seemed like they were all connected mind-to-mind in a...

Before I could consider more detail the Leader's eye popped open, and the rest of the Elders followed suit. My spell collapsed with my surprise, and I stood straighter hoping they hadn't noticed my spying.

"We see the mage you brought back."

Ah so that's what they were doing. Spirit travelling to watch the mage being brought. With a wince I couldn't control I suddenly thought of the implications. They could, and probably were, always watching without us ever knowing. All those times I'd wondered how they knew everything so quickly. What was their range? I struggled to control my thoughts as the Leader went on.

"He is in great pain, but very much alive. You have done well to bring him back." The Leader suddenly smiled, causing even me to shudder at its malevolence. "And in such a malleable condition too," he added.

"He killed a Chosen. He didn't deserve a quick death." I replied with a smile almost as good as the Leader's. He nodded his agreement and a flash of courage kept my tongue speaking.

"I'd ask that if he survives the Teacher's...tuition, and he outlives his usefulness, that I be given the chance to end his life personally."

The Leaders grin widened. "I shall see the Teachers keep him alive for that very reason. Such restrictions rarely causes them any problems and it is a reward you deserve."

I bowed my head briefly.

"Thank-you Leader."

His eye's flickered closed for the briefest of seconds and then he looked to the door behind me.

"Ah, and here he is now."

The door opened as if he'd spelled it to, and in walked three Chosen. Close behind them floated the mage, safely contained in a bubble. At some unseen gesture he drifted through the door and into the middle of the room in front of the Elders. One of the Chosen flicked a hand and the bubble rotated until the mage was positioned upright, facing the Leader.

*Many have asked questions about the otherside, but the Leader has never answered to this day.

...skip to next chapter


Because it's been so long, and this chapter is so reluctant, I've decided to split it. I've reached a good point to stop for now.

Anything you'd like to comment or discuss then please do so here.
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Posted: Sun Apr 30, 2006 6:43 am    Post subject:  

Chapter 14b : Options

The Leader glanced at the three guarding Sempa, and with some satisfaction I saw that they flinched under his gaze.

"Release him and leave," he ordered.

They looked agitated for a moment, torn between obeying the Leader and leaving a mage unguarded in his presence. Their heads bowed in obedience, the bubble dissolved and they walked out.

The mage collapsed to the floor as if a puppet with cut strings. Retonan gestured quickly and the prone figure was dragged upright and his eyes came to rest on the Leader.

"What's your name Shokun?"

"no..nothing...I'll tell you nothing s...scum."

The voice was weak but harsh, as if he were old enough for white in his hair. Yet it held a power of defiance still.

Anger flashed through me and before I can hold back I lashed out with a spell. The mage cried out and crumpled to the floor again. Retonan gaze flicked to me with annoyance but the Leader's eyes never wavered from the captive as if he were already reading everything he wanted to know directly from his flesh.

"He is still strong, even with his injuries. It seems a time with the Teachers must come first before we will get anything of use. Let them work on his mind for a time."

The Leader's voice was quiet, almost as if talking to himself, but it seemed to carry around the room and I didn't doubt the captive heard every word. I moved to the door and opened it slightly. Wathe, a Chosen I recognised, was stood to the side of the door. A nod quickly sent him off and he returned with the three guards. A bubble swiftly enclosed the captive once more and without a word he drifted out along with the guards. As Wathe turned to follow them out, his eyes caught my own. I mouthed the word 'Teachers' and he nodded swiftly and left.

Not sure whether I was dismissed or not, I closed the door and turned around again, facing them as patiently as I could with lead eyelids. Damn I was tired.

"You did well with your first assignment Eraser Squadleader Norral."

My head swung to the speaker, an Elder several to the right of the Leader. Mosuren was a sour-faced man with a perpetual sneer, but despite appearances often spoke as if he were relaxing on a picnic in some woodland clearing, his voice light and friendly. Fair hair covered his head and fell to his shoulders completing the look of an arrogant Lordling. Indeed he was, or had been before meeting the Leader. His father had the money required to pay for his son's magical education during the first days of the school and Mosuren had been an apt student for anything the Leader would teach him.

"Thank you Elder," I replied cautiously. Despite my success capturing the mage I had still lost a Chosen and brought the rest of my Squad back in not much better condition.

"The war changes and shifts into a new realm. If this is in anyway a co-ordinated retaliation from the Shokun then we need to change too, otherwise the balance will shift from our favour."

Even with his light relaxed voice he managed to drip venom when speaking of Shokun; an ancient word, loosely meaning 'Unenlightened', that had been adopted for mages not of the Chosen. I shifted my gaze for a second and saw that the Leader was watching me much the way he'd been watching the captive on the floor. Did they want some sort of plan from me? Thankfully Mosuren continued.

"Your successful efforts to capture one of the Shokun means that we will once again give you a choice as to your next assignment. Listen carefully and decide which one your talents will be best suited to work on. Impress us again and you will be rewarded."

The almost musical voice stopped abruptly, to be replaced by the raw power of the Leader's.

"You know of the death of four Chosen under the command of your old squadleader. Someone needs to track down the mages responsible and deal with them."

Retonan spoke up next.

"With Chosen being killed and some Shokun joining the war we need to recruit more Chosen. Someone needs to seek out those who recognise our cause and bring them in for training.

Without a pause Mosuren continued once again.

"Some artefacts were left hidden in Sosulv when we left the school behind. Someone needs to travel there and recover them."

Silence cut through the room and I felt all their eyes on me. Although I got a choice it seemed they weren't about to change their habit of providing little information to choose on. I quickly thought through them, my mind buzzing from idea to idea despite my exhaustion.

Tracking down those responsible for Darak's time with the Teachers would be a pleasure. I owed that much to Darak without my own desire to see them scream and answer to the Leader. Rumours of the battle for the caravan with trees moving, and eyes watching from the air, tugged at old memories that I couldn't hold on to.

Go find other potential Chosen. High honour indeed that they trusted me with the first encounters that are so important in cementing our hold on someone new. An old idea about Emflikars flashed through my head along with memories of my recent power-drawing experiments. There were certainly interesting possibilities on that path.

So the Leader left artefacts behind in Sosulv. My first time in the capital would certainly be an experience, and I felt my curiosity twitch at the thought of what the Leader might have thought valuable enough to hide behind. Weapons of some sort surely, and if I fetched them then surely I'd be offered the use of them.

They sat expectantly awaiting an answer.

What to choose?

Skip to next chapter

Wow - less than a 1000 words, but it sure was an effort getting them out. Chapter 14 is concluded then and you now have, with a fair amount of thought gone into it, 3 entirely different options to choose from.

Don't think these are the only options though. Almost anything is an option to Norral from suggesting his own idea for a mission and seeing what they say, to, if you're suicidal, attacking the Elders right now.

Tread carefully.

Thanks for reading, and please discuss here :)
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Posted: Sat May 13, 2006 8:38 am    Post subject:  

Chapter 16 : Combining Options

As the three options rolled around my tired mind a flash of resentment at this unnecessary haste went through my head. What would waiting a night matter before I had to choose! I'd only just got back from their last task, surely I deserved a chance to rest before having to choose my next. But the eyes watching me made me swallow such thoughts. I dragged my mind back to task. I wanted to impress them, but also look out for myself. I'd got their attention with the bridge now I needed to bowl them over. Inspiration struck.

"It would be an honour to retrieve the artefacts for you, but it is a long journey to the Capital, I could look for new Initiates on the way too."

As much pleasure as revenge on the mages would have been I'm sure Darak would enjoy it that much more after the Teachers were done with him. With an internal smile I looked forward to him detailing it over several mugs once I was back and he'd succeeded. He always knew to pay special attention to the screams.

"You presume too much," Retonan bit off before the slightest gesture from the Leader made him stop and he spoke himself.

"You ask a lot young Squadleader, yet I think it no idle boast. I see much ambition in your eyes; know that I will reward such ambition should you succeed." His eyes shifted intensity, no longer staring at me, but into me. "I know of what you dabble with, and could show you possibilities with it you've never dreamed of."

I felt the briefest stab of pain at the back of my head and for an infinitesimal moment I could feel a tiny flow of what mana I had remaining seeping out of me. Realisation dawned on me so strongly I couldn't hide the shock from showing on my face. The flow stopped before I'd even stopped gaping, let along tried to resist it myself. He knew! Not only did he know, but was beyond advanced in it. What seemed like months ago now, when in reality was only yesterday, I had been thrown backwards trying to take power from an unconscious mage. The Leader had just taken some of my own without even a gesture. I tried to reason with myself, it must be because I'm so tired. Let him try again once I've rested.

With a start I realised he was staring at me, and the anger I was feeling was about to leak onto my face too. With an effort I schooled my expression.

"I would be a most willing student." I replied carefully.

"Then whilst you are completing this task it'll do you good to remember that you are the student." His eyes clearly conveyed the threat veiled in his words. "Retonan will provide the details," he concluded.

The ex-libarian seemed a million miles from his old life as he did exactly that, in clipped tones that could only be interpreted as orders.

"The first, recruitment of potential initiates, is simple enough. You will be shown how to detect the power in those too young to have it manifest yet. But don't restrict your search to those still tied to their mother’s apron strings, we need those who can fight now as well as those that will be our future. Any 'Sempa' can be shown the true path, or even a Shokun."

The disgust he put on the word 'Sempa' was only bested by the pure hatred that coloured Shokun. I grimaced too. Even if I did somehow convert one of the Shokun he wouldn't even be trusted enough to clean the Elders latrines for years, it was unlikely any would be so devoted, even to a cause as righteous as ours.

"You will tell them the vision, and you will test their powers. Nothing more. You will leave their training for when they get back here. As such, I would recommend not searching for them until on your way back from Sosulv or you will have to mind them whilst trying to recover the artefacts. I hope it goes without saying that they should have nothing to do with the locating, or retrieval of the artefacts. If possible they shouldn't even be aware of them, and certainly not of"

I tried not to show even a tiny portion of my sudden interest at mention of the artefacts. What could they do!.

"As for that part of your task. You will be given guidance on how to locate the person in Sosluv who can provide you more information. Until then you don't need to know more."

More secrets. I don't know why I was still surprised. Despite it only being my second formal meeting with the Elders surely I expected as much. A thought suddenly occurred.

"Am I to go alone?"

"Too many would prove...cumbersome once you make it to the Capital. Yet too few will limit the number of potentials you could bring back. You may take two of your choice with you."

Only two! Immediately my abused mind began running names through my head. Who could I take?

"Scrolls will be provided for you with the information you need. You are dismissed."

It took me a second to realise I'd finally heard the words I'd wanted to hear for the last two days. Ever since I knew there was a Shokun in the Keep I'd been waiting to know it was over by hearing those words. With massive relief, and a near overwhelming rush of exhaustion, I turned to leave. AS I did I caught the Leaders gaze, staring placidly now, but I could see both the threat and the promise held there as if he had shouted it at me. I shuddered unconsciously at what he'd done to me with such ease. I opened the door and left.

A chosen stood there once again with a few scrolls, but this time I barely noticed him and wearily took them into my arms. Arriving back in my quarters I dumped them on to the desk, undressed and collapsed on my bedroll, almost instantly asleep.

Colours added for viewer ease, Norral doesn't have access to maps of such a variety of colours ;)

Skip to next chapter

OK - some things that Norral knows about the map.

The dots of various sizes denote settlements. Purple for those controlled by the Chosen. The large purple dot is the main Chosen stronghold in this area and your current location.

Paths/roads in the Great forest are well marked but not paved for love of the trees and the use of fire/fire magics is highly illegal.

Throughout the forest are patches of very dense woods and no settlements for many miles. Large numbers of preditors roam around and it's easy to get lost. Other areas are more sparse, and heavily travelled, especially in non-Chosen controlled territory.

Patrols move around and between the larger settlements, groups of 50 - 100 men on horses. Closer to the Capital the patrols get more frequent and larger, with the largest being nearly 500 cavalry.

So what's Norral's plan? Who is he going to take? Any other considerations?

Thanks for reading and ...

Please discuss this here.
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Posted: Tue Jun 20, 2006 7:10 am    Post subject:  

Chapter 18: Preparations

The Elders were connected by that pulsing green tendril. Eyes were closed, lips all moving as one.


I'm connected by a pulsing green tendril with the elders sat around me. Their strange, unified, voice drifted through my head.


I cower in fear before them, naked and covered in twisted injuries, begging not to be sent back to the Teachers.


I stand over them all as they bow to my feet. With contempt I lash out with a kick and laugh as Setundor takes the full force of my booted foot in the face. He collapses to the floor, blood gushing from the remains of a nose.


I sat up drenched in sweat and with the echoes of someone screaming still ringing in my ears. Had that come from me? Memories of the dreams swept through me. "Nightmares," I corrected in a near whisper. "Some were definately nightmares." One memory stood out, Setundor, a name I didn't recognise, but the face! That ruined face had been the Leader's!

Pushing aside the blankets, I swung my legs off the bed and stood up. I splashed water over my face from a pitcher in the corner and hurried through a quick wash. I would have warmed the water, but the chill was refreshing and helped wake me up. Clearly exhaustion had marred my sleep and was responsible for my dreams. None of it was real, just the aftermath of the past few days playing tricks on my mind.

I dressed quickly and passed through the curtained doorway to my study. Basic though the room was, it was luxury I had seen little of since joining the Chosen. Lower than a Squadleader meant a tent shared with two others, if you were lucky. The rest were packed into dorms, little more than sheds, with twenty or more inside. I had spent over a year in a dorm and nearly three in a tent. Now I had these two rooms all to myself. I settled down on the padded chair at the desk and began working through the collection of scrolls I'd received the night before.

The first I glanced at was a detailed a map that stretched from the camp to the western edge of the capital. If the scale was accurate then it was over 60 leagues as the raven flies, and probably half as much again by the paths. We'd need horses to make progress at any speed, and then it'd still take nearly two weeks with a clear run.

The next scroll I immediately dismissed. It was a list of spare Chosen available but I'd been told I could take anyone and I'd already decided who I wanted. Kewor would be on his way back from Grenton Bridge in a few days, and I knew the gruff Chosen would jump at the chance to leave again straight away - he was still in the dorms. My second choice, Margn, had been quick with sparkbolts that had torn through the soldiers at the bridge, as well as solid with a shield, but it was his tracking skills I wanted. He had been a part of my squad that had helped bring the captive back, and had been drained completely a few miles from camp. Hopefully he was making a recovery in the healers tent by now.

The third scroll was sealed with dark wax which I cracked with a thumb. Inside was a short, blunt, message written in a flowing script. I knew all the scribes' hands from long experience, but this one I didn't recognise. I would have bet my last coin that one of the elders had written it, I doubted they wanted a scribe knowing the contents.

Once in Sosulv, proceed to the inn called 'The Flying Footman' and take a room for three nights. Stay away from the common room until the third evening and then enter and make sure to sit in the north corner. You will be approached by someone who will introduce themselves as 'A night watchman' to which you will reply 'I would take a walk in the night'. Follow their instructions.

Precise enough, but it galled that I wasn't trusted with the full information straight away, and that I wouldn't be in charge once in the Capital. Such secrecy did hint at the true importance of these artefacts though, and if I wasn't completely placated, it helped a little. I had over 300 miles to travel and I could use that time to tie Margn and Kewor to me. I intended to have them jumping before I so much as thought frog, and willing to skin their own mothers on my whim.

The final scroll concerned recruitment. It included what to look out for, how to test a potential's strength in those too young to manifest, and how to approach them. I had put little thought into how I might go about finding any potentials, but there was plenty of time on the journey for that.

A growl in my stomach announced my hunger and put paid to any more planning. I had eaten little since leaving to attack the bridge, and nothing in the last day. I left to find something to break my fast, emerging into the grey light of early dawn to find a surprising number of people around and already busy. Groups of two or three could be seen stood together talking in low voices. No doubt the death of five Chosen had circulated twice already. As I walked through the camp I heard snippits of conversation that confirmed my thought.

"...I've been saying for months that we should always be shielded."

"...soon as I get a glimpse of a whore-spawned Shokun I'll..."

"...heard that they're going to double up some of the squads."

Much was speculation, along with many threats of revenge, but a tinge of worry seemed to weave through much of the talk. The elders had been correct. The first death, however it was achieved, would damage morale and it had.


Coincidence brought me close to the Healer's tent, and I ducked under the tent opening, pushing aside my hunger for now. It was just a tent, but huge, almost twice the size of a dorm, although no less crowded. A half dozen herb-women, wearing the large skirts and dark blouses that identified their profession, darted about between the beds. Occassionally one would reach in to the large leather beltpouches they all wore to pull out some bottle, packet or small bundle. A little further down a Chosen walked from bed to bed, tailed behind by an Initiate observing him as he placed hands on the head of each patient. I headed towards them.

"Morning Torra."

The older Chosen removed his hands from someone so wrapped in cotton strips I couldn't tell if it were man or woman, and stepped away from the bed. His face was creased with age, and his hair all but gone; completely white where it remained. Sharp blue eyes belied his age and they fixed on me with an irritated stare.

"Hmph," he grunted. "Tis morning already is it? Time shifts quick when I 'av over half an Eraser squad in 'ere moaning and wailing all night long." His look left no doubt that he blamed me entirely. I ignored it.

"How they shaping up?"

"Hmph, as well as can be expected I suppose: One's began finger twitching, you'll likely lose him. The others just need rest and food. Nothing more I can do for 'em."

I couldn't supress a wince. "Do you have a name for him?" No need to say whom I meant by him.

Torra looked blank and waved away the question, but the Initiate peaked around his mentor and answered instead.

"Er..Teron Tu'dir."

A flash of sympathy for the fate of the fire specialist was burnt up with contempt at the waste. Anyone who allowed themselves to become Emflikar deserved what they got. Suddenly an idea bloomed in my mind and I fought to suppress my sudden excitement.

"Can I see him?"

Torra shrugged, "Olver 'ere will show you 'im, if you want. I'm busy, I don't have time to be flapping my tongue over something done and done." As if to prove his word he stalked past me and laid hands on the next patient.

"If you'll follow me Chosen," the Initiate murmured.

He led me to the far end of the tent and then ducked through a curtain that I hadn't seen. I followed and found even more beds in a section almost half the size of the first. A quick glance around the beds here showed most of my squad. Olver was already stood by one on the far left.

Walking up to him I saw that Teron was the only one with his eyes open, the rest seemed to simply be asleep. Despite open eyes, his vision was glazed as he stared straight up at nothing. His fingers twitched continuously in runes that every Chosen knew and avoided.

"Leave us Initiate."

He looked at me blankly for a second and then nodded and walked back the way we'd come. As soon as he'd ducked behind the curtain I looked down on Teron again, my fingers already tracing altogether different runes. I fed the spell out slowly, warily, I had no idea what effect the pleasure magics might have on it. I felt the pressure and slight block as my magic tried to find a way in, much like when I'd tried it on the unconscious Shokun, yet it eventually pushed through more easily. Interesting.

A faint sound tried to fill my ears; a music beyond anything man could produce, that made the soul weep and jump for joy at the same time. I ignored it as hard as I could, forcing it out my head, knowing I would be as trapped as he if I listened too long. The sudden flow of power made me gasp and almost collapsed the spell but I held onto it like someone clawing at the edge of a cliff determined not to fall. It was incredible; full and fast it flowed into me in waves. It made what I had taken from Karak's body pale to insignificance, and was a raging river compared to the cup of water I'd taken from the captive.


The spell collapsed around me and once again I found myself thrown backwards, this time into the wall of the tent.

"Mine, get off, mine."

The heavy duty material had held, and I was still on my feet, but my dazed mind was still trying to adapt to the extra power and it took several moments for me to register the voice. It was a near growl, and full of anger, and it took even longer for me to realise it was Teron that had spoken! I moved back to his bed and jumped back as he tried to lunge at me, with arms outstretched.

"Mine, need it, give it back."

I had traced the runes instinctively and cast them out before he finished speaking. He was flung backwards and landed solidly on his back in the bed which groaned and looked ready to collapse. I hadn't intended it to be so hard, just enough to stop his attack, but the power seemed to course through me uncontrollably. I sank to the ground as I tried to rein in the alien feeling; rein in the power. I pictured the sensation I had felt before, of my mind expanding to accomodate the extra power. It tried, I could feel it swell so much it felt I was surely about to burst. Just as suddenly the feeling was gone, the power no longer seemed to flow through my body, and I could once again feel the normal glow in the back of my head.


My eyes opened again at the sound, and I looked about for the source as I stood up. Teron's lay there, eyes closed and chest moving; his fingers were still. The speaker was in the bed next to him; conveniently it was Margn. The rest of the beds still showed sleeping forums. With a last glance at Teron I turned to Margn and walked over to his bed. I felt rested, and content, like I'd had three days rest. A quick growl of my stomach indicated the hunger was still there though.

Lying in the bed, the lanky tracker was pale and looked about ready to heave whatever remained in his stomach. Green eyes were oddly matched with dark brown hair, marking him from Krantonea, halfway around the world. The Leader hadn't balked at travelling to gather Chosen, and that still happened. Recruiting envoys were spread nearly everywhere in the North, many wondered if the Leader would ever send one to the South through the DeadZone.

"Good to see you awake Margn, how do you feel?"

"Like the Teachers were bored and held mid-summer celebrations in my head."

I grinned at the humour, he couldn't be feeling that bad if he was making jokes.

"You feel up to a walk and something to eat?"

He looked thoughtful for a moment, and then seemed to catch something in my eyes because he simply nodded and pulled back the blankets. He was a little shaky on his feet but stood up without help. He was only wearing a pair of cotton breeches, but a cloak of his was hung by a peg to a rope along the wall and he pulled it down and wrapped it around himself.

"I'd get fully dressed, but you know Torra won't let me leave for long, even with an order from you."

I nodded and we ducked around the partition. As expected Torra immediately protested, but a combination of reassurances and promises to be back soon from Margn and my insistence that I needed to speak with him alone eventually overcame him, and he let us go with a grunt.

Outside, I hurried along to the cookfires, received two plates of various meats with some bread and a handful of fruit, and guided Margn back to my rooms. Despite myself, I followed some of Torra's advice and made sure Margn ate every scrap of breakfast as I told him my new task. I needed him fit to travel as soon as Kewor was back and got his hand sorted.

"The Capital!" He repeated increduously around a mouthful of bread. "There's enough patrols between here and there to suffocate us in bodies and bury us in arrows. It'd take half the camp to carve a way there."

"I have no intention of carving my way anywhere unless I have to."

He swallowed and nodded. "A small group could probably pass through if we were careful, about ten perhaps. That would give us ample defence if so smug captain decided to pick on the wrong group. How many will we be?"

"Three," I stated simply. "Including us."

A coughing fit racked him as he choked on the water he'd been drinking.

"Only three!"

"We need to move swiftly and quietly, avoiding notice where possible. Three is enough."

He swallowed again, although this time not because he was eating. When he next spoke it was in a voice that said he had resigned himself to a fool's task and was looking for a way to survive.

"Who is the third?"

"Kewor. He'll be here in a few days once he's relieved at the bridge. You have that long to get as well as you can. We need to plan a route too."

Surprisingly the news of Kewor seemed to brighten him slightly although he just nodded in response and finished his meal.

"I should get back. I still feel like someone played a particularly rough game of Ji'ren with my head."

"Certainly, go, and get better quickly." I meant it as an order and he took it that way, even managing a enfeebled salute of fist to heart before he left. He would do well.


Teron didn't wake up again in the few days after I'd visited him, although his breathing continued. Torra muttered about people interferring when he was trying to do his job, entirely as if he hadn't said there was nothing more he could do for him the first day. I couldn't get a straight answer out of Torra, but I got the impression there was definately some hope for the fire specialist all of a sudden.

Margn and the rest of my squad were released from the healer's tent three days later. It was a further two days after that before Kewor made it back with the exhausted forms of Harop, Mulim and Shannon in tow. I had made sure I was notified as soon as he was spotted and met him on the edge of the camp. Irritated at the days of waiting I dismissed the three to their dorm and took Kewor to my study before he had so much as considered finding a bed. Once there I went through the same conversation as I had with Margn, with much the same responses. He too eventually conceeded that three could likely get through unseen where ten would be noted. I dismissed him to bed and made final plans alone.

During the last few days Margn had argued persistently that we would be better off taking a direct route through the thickest parts of the forest, with him more than capable of keeping them on track. Not only would it halve the distance and time, he argued, but we could answer any threat from wildlife much more directly than ducking to avoid guard patrols or talking our way past. It would only take one disgruntled Captain with an itchy sword-hand to cause a lot of trouble

Kewor argued differently, prefering to follow the paths. With good horses we wouldn't notice the extra distance, and actually get there quicker if trouble was avoided. We were much less likely to get lost, and if the patrols caused trouble they would be dealt with. Many reports also stated that wildlife was the least of the dangers in the deeper parts of the forest, although he had to admit much of that was peasant ravings and farmer's stories.

There was one other alternative that I could think of. We could leave the forest and travel the road that ran east along the border all the way to the Sosluv Road that ran north/south directly to the capital. There would be just as many patrols on that road as the rest of the forest combined and it would take closer to a month, but we'd be lost in a sea of other people coming to and from Sosluv.

I made my decision.

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Thanks for reading,

Please discuss which option Norral decides on - or indeed any other alternatives that you might have - here.

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Joined: 16 Oct 2004
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Location: UK

Posted: Tue May 06, 2008 2:07 am    Post subject:  

Chapter 20 : It's a farmer's life

I decided to take the longer route, via the main road, and skip the forest all together. It was well known that the Chosen controlled the south west parts of the forest. Any patrol seeing three men travelling from that direction wouldn't be fooled for long. Few ordinary people would be stupid enough to be in the area.

Besides, the Elders hadn't give me any indication of a deadline, and the last thing the Sosulv authorities would expect was us walking casually through the front gates.

I was anxious to be off though. Ever since I'd witnessed the Elders linked I'd felt as if their watchful eyes followed me constantly. I wouldn't feel comfortable again until I had a half dozen leagues under my belt. Surely their spirit travel range was limited?

As much as further delay pained me, I decided to at least give Kewor one day to rest after the ordeal at the bridge, not to mention getting his hand fixed up. Margn would benefit from another day's recovery too. Plus, with this particular plan I needed to use the time to sort out some rather distasteful travel arrangements.


"You've got nothing in between?"

"No, Chosen. We don't keep any but the best, save for these that just came in yesterday. Waste of stalls"

I was stood in the stables, looking for three unimpressive horses that wouldn't stand out in a crowd and draw more attention to us than wanted. Sadly what stood before me was stall after stall of the finest horseflesh. That and the two cart nags the Initiate was trying to convince me to take.

"Do you atleast still have the wagon?"

"Yes, Chosen."

"Then I'll take it. See that half the wagon is filled with produce of some kind."

"Erm... produce."

I sighed, and resisted disciplining him. "Food, vegetables. Something that we can pretend to be selling." He nodded and disappeared.

"Nothing that'll rot within a few weeks," I yelled after him before dismissing the whole thing from my mind. It would have been bad enough having to pretend to be simple men, but poor farmers on some rickety old wagon was taking it too far. It simply wasn't right for three Chosen to lowers themselves so. Mentally I prepared for the inevitable complaints from Margn and Kewor. If I wanted to ensure their loyalty, I'd have to concoct some form of entertainment to help plactate them.

The next stop was for our clothing. I shuddered.


"Just put it on, Margn. That's an order."

I didn't know why the lanky tracker was complaining so much. Out of the three of us, he had the least demeaning costume. Playing the part of our protector, he at least had decent boots, and a weapon to play with. As he relented and started dressing in the rough, dirty leather garments I glanced at Kewor. He was scowling, but so far hadn't raised a voice in complaint. Dressed poorly in simple farmer cotton shirt, bare feet and threadbare pants he did look the part of a farmhand. Myself, I wasn't in much better. Slightly cleaner clothes, slightly better repair. I would be the farmer, off to the Capital to peddle his wears.

Despite seeming incompatance, the Initiate had managed to put a good quantity of potatoes, pumpkins and sweetpeppers inside the wagon. They'd last the journey quite well and there was room enough remaining for two of us to sleep in comfort greater than the dorms at least.

An Eraser squad passed by, heading out on a patrol. They sneered at us, until their Squadleader recognised me and barked a quick order. In silence they continued by.

"Ok, go grab your packs. Lets get moving." I ordered.


"Good shot!"

We were one week on the road. The old nags were moving slow, but steady. It'd be atleast another three weeks before we'd make it to Sosulv. Boredom was the only problem. Passing patrols, still fairly infrequent at this distance, paid us no mind at all. Most of the time the road was empty, which we were currently taking advantage of to relieve the tedium.

"The knot on that tree."

"Oh come on Margn, make it a challenge." Kewor replied as he aimed a lazy finger at the named target and sent a small fireball shooting directly at it.

"We need moving targets," I stated. "Now they're a challenge. Margn, see if you can't scare some birds out a tree somewhere with one of your sonics."

Margn scanned the treetops with a tracker's eye, traced the rune carefully and sent the spell spinning off far to the side of the road. A faint boom annonuced its activation and sure enough half a dozen birds flitted from the top of the forest. Most headed deeper into the forest, but a couple headed towards us.

We all started aiming. "Remember, no bursts. Just one target at a time." I warned as I fired my first shot, missing wildly. Margn missed too, but Kewor hit one solidly and it started falling swiftly.

"Woo, yeah! Now that's how its done!"

Despite several more shots each, no one managed to hit the second bird, and it passed out of range. Kewor continued to cheer his skills and even hopped off the wagon to fetch his kill. A bit of victory meat for that night's supper.


We plodded on for a couple of hours, until a rising dustcloud ahead announced a sizeable group moving at speed in our direction. As we'd practiced, and as was normal for any normal citizen, we guided our wagon to the very edge of the road, and came to a stop to allow the speeding group past.

Within minutes they'd caught us up. It was soldiers and no ordinary patrol. A group of a score or more. They looked experienced, and suspicous as they reined in next to us, strong stallions pawing the dusty road surface.

"Oi, you!" The lead soldier called out. His armour the most decorated, and an arrogant sneer on his youthful face. I hated him instantly and wondered what it'd take to make him scream like a little girl. Not much, I decided.

"We have reports of fireballs being seen in the air not far from here. Have you seen any sign of Sempa? What can you tell us about them?"

With my eyes respectfully downcast, as was proper, it was hard to watch his face and judge his emotions. I was concerned though, that these men wouldn't be fooled easily.

"Come on, I haven't got all day. Speak, or I'll take you for spys and drag you back to Etonreh for proper questioning."


OK - one day early, because it is likely I could be busy tomorrow. We're back in action and Norral is well on his way to the Capital. His disguise has done well so far, but now it's being challenge by an enthusiastic officer. We need to answer well or I have a good inkling he'll arrest us anyway simply because he thinks he can.

As such, this DP has two aspects to it. What are you going to say? And, what do you do if he doesn't accept it and arrests you? Immediately kill them all? Or let yourselves get taken to Etonreh, in the wrong direction to the Capital?

There will likely be a dice roll involved (behind the scenes) as to whether you get arrested or not, depending on how good I think your story is.

Please discuss here.
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