Boy was about nineteen. A young man really, but his face made him look younger. Girl was younger, maybe fifteen, sixteen. Peter Bowen thought as he kept his distance considering the situation, studying the several people involved.
City of wade was under Arenian occupation for over three centuries now, and Arenian trackers seeking out mages to be drafted to their military force was hardly an unusual event. Most people who were learned in spellcasting kept their skills hidden, and their weapons were creatively concealed.
Still give it enough time and any trickery will stand revealed. Trackers were by now very skilled in noticing anything with engraved spellcasting spiral. A ring, a stick, the smallest of things. They knew what they were looking for.
This was what baffled peter as he studied the unfolding situation. Boy was blatantly wearing two short swords with the casting spiral boldly and prominently visible on their handles. Either he was a fool, of a foreigner who decided to seek his fortune in the city known to be the heart of merchant routes of ravine.
You control the trading routes and you control the gold. And for this very reason Arenians made sure wade was well controlled
A mage hunter pushed the boy and peter noticed that there was no fight in him... panic, yes, fear. Definitely. No fight.
Sigh...if those bastards are so desperate for reinforcements to take such obvious wimps the day of our victory is at hand.
Peter said it with a sad grin on his face. A grin full of painful memories of friends and lost allies that never affected his eyes.
Mary silently observed him.. Then glanced back at the four guards pushing the young man and the girl around
Peter turned to face her. She was young and beautiful black hair and pale cold eyes that have seen too much evil, he remembered there were nights when she gave him comfort, but there was never love between them. Here was comradely.. Oh yes. And there was absolute trust.
And Aertes grace there was fight in her... too much fight he sometimes thought....
There are four of them and two of us. He said with a slightly amused look on his face.
If you want i can call a few more to make it interesting for you she replied with an impishly raised eyebrow
Which escape route do we take afterwards., and what do we do with…them he asked glancing to the two foreigners.
We go home… if they wish they can follow she said in a disinterested way.
Girl seems strong...the guy... who knows.
Very well peter sighed with a distinct tone of resignation in his voice... so distinct in fact that it was obviously exaggerated. He had every intention of helping the foreigners. Wade was after all his town. Arenians were merely borrowing it.
Street was relatively narrow. In a way it made everything easier. They were fast and they were silent. It was the carelessness of the guards that did it. Over time they grew complacent. So sure of their dominion over the streets that they could enjoy the mage hunter interrogating the foreigners. Laugh at the trembling young man who begged them to leave them be... sadistic behavior comes easy ion the right kind of environment, and wade has over time become the best kind of environment for it.
This was the reason for their swift downfall. The guard that was supposed to cover the street behind them was way too amused with the goings on . He fell first. A well-placed dagger in the temple. Mary mused about the arrogance of him not wearing his helmet, and a part of her felt the rage of the under estimated. They were so sure of their supremacy that thee rebellion that was building up in the dark corners went unnoticed.
Peter slit the throats of other two guards in one swift motion. He was a large man, but training made him swift. And so accurate. Mage hunter turned around, a casting dagger in hand when in one swift motion the foreign girl produced what appeared to be a pipe with a spellcasting Baran spiral and blasted a lightning bolt at the hunter. He fell to the ground instantly dead.
Young man watched his companion in shock.. Then hugged her...Mary noticed he was crying.
A wimp she thought.
I am so sorry Eines... i.. I should have done it.. You should not have taken a life. Not you too...
Are you alright peter asked louder to get their attention.
Listen well you too. You can either run away, flee this city. You may make it or you may not. Or you may come with us.
They stared blankly at peter in the middle of the bloodbath that occurred..
We don’t have all day. We are leaving now! If you wish, you may follow!
Peter said as he took out a short casting dagger and set the dead bodies ablaze. He knew it was a flat out sign to anyone that death occurred there, but he was damned if the city he strived to liberate only ended up falling to whisperers.
Immediately after, they ran
The girl was the first to move, young man followed.
After meandering through a labyrinth of streets and passages they ended up in the tunnels and eventually they came to a house. .
peter took the foreigners to an empty room, and there Mary joined him after a while.
I am peter Bowen, and lady here is Mary Ives, and you two are?
Eines girl said
Just Eines girl replied.
Very well, and you?
Stein, stein Phais....
Stein the wanderer?
Stein twitched for a moment....
Phais , peter said with an amused tone... it means a wanderer in Muraman. So, stein the wanderer and...Eines... what ill wind brought you two to wade?
Boy seemed to regain his composure, as he began a story peter heard on quite a few occasions.
Hey were refugees from Ardunat. He heard rumors...how much actual truth there was to them he never knew. But even the Arenian council of mages fled the fallen city.
Apparently a necryte was reborn there and he has leveled the city. Some say dozens died, others numbered hundreds....such is the way of rumors.
If steins story was to be trusted, there was an event in Ardunat. It happened during the sealing of a grimlas when the man now dubbed the reaper of Ardunat lost control and revealed himself as a necryte. Two hundred and forty seven people died. Boy must have lost someone dear that day peter thought. People like that remember the exact body count.
After the fall of Ardunat he and his sister Eines wandered the kingdoms doing work where work was to be found. Apparently the girl was a competent mage, and stein was a schooled cartographer. Still, in the end road took them to wade. All roads lead to wade at one point or another. And here they thought of finding work and even settling down. Until they got ambushed.
Peter glanced down on stein's swords. You go around showing those blades and you will be marked by the mage trackers. Arenians need mages for their armies as a mage's life is a short endeavor relatively speaking.
Stein seemed to study his own swords for a moment. It never occurred to me that things were that bad in wade.
Oh yes Mary replied my brothers were drafted, all but one. They weren’t as...lucky as you were today.
You have my gratitude...stein said. Then after a pause spent carefully looking at both peter and Mary, he continued. Would i be wrong to presume that you two are...opposing the Arenian rule?
Peter and Mary shared a look.
What gives you that idea Mary asked noticing that steins demeanor completely changed. There was cunningness in the eyes that initially seemed fearful. A grin shined on the lips that a mere hour ago begged for mercy. And yes an attractive young man where a sniveling coward was just recently.
Stein grinned. You mean besides the lack of hesitation in the way you killed those guards? Your outfits, the way you hide your armor and weaponry. The way you dull its shine so it doesn’t attract attention, and of course the fact that peter here has a crest of the house wade. They were the previous rulers and founders of the city, and only those who defy the present rule would hold to the crests of the old.
Eines rolled her eyes...what my brother here is trying to say is that this house still has the crest of the former ruler engraved on the wall here, and as a cartographer he is quite familiar with it as it used to signify wade on trading maps.
Stein shot a hurt look towards Eines sounded more cunning the way i said it.
Peter laughed heartily, well. I don’t know about cartographers, but if you want, we are always looking for capable people to aid our battle. Stein stiffened upon hearing the word battle. It was hard not to notice it. Peter put an arm around his shoulder and said. There are different ways to fight this battle stein. Even a cartographer may find a purpose.
Stein remained silent...
Eines said. If you help us with food and a roof over our heads, we will help in any way we can.
Stein looked pleadingly at his sister who shot him a cold look. He shrugged after a moment and said... very well... we will help in any way we can.
Excellent! Then let us break bread and drink. More will come this night and we'll see about finding some work for the two of you!
Peter and Mary left the room and stein turned to Eines.
Because they helped us! They didn't ask who we were, they saw people in trouble and they helped. I plan on returning the favor. Stein studied his sister but there was no true fight in him anymore that day. He knew better by now.
I will be pretty much useless, you know that?
You said it yourself Eines replied. You seek to redeem yourself. Who knows, maybe this is exactly the way you start
And what of the first rule? If things start feeling too fate-driven we run?
Eines smiled and hugged her brother. How can you find redemption when you are running away from it? This doesn't feel fate driven stein. This to me feels driven by people, but hey, you can always ask Azriel.
Deep in the back of stein's mind, a voice only he could hear said... usually i would advise you to run... but you already made your decision stein. The moment those people saved your sister when you couldn't protect her...you made a decision. You would repay them.
Very well stein said... we help them...we help them liberate wade.
About a dozen more people arrived by the nightfall. And stein found the company of few of them to be quite pleasant.
Durdan was a short halfblooded cartographer, four feet tall maybe a bit more, not of Sardaheim or Shivas bloodline that was certain, he lacked the height and grace of one and the ferocity of other kind. No Durdan was definitely of the old tribes whose origins and legends are veiled in mystery. He was however easy to talk to and so stein and him went on and on about the noble art of cartography. He was resistance's main spy at the general's table in wade. And stein definitely saw why
In fact stein and Duran’s conversation was so energetic that soon most of the room was observing them drinking, laughing and debating cartographical measurements. Suffice to say that the room's attention was based not so much on interest birthed by understanding of the topic. Instead it was sheer bafflement.
Farad, a man of many talents as he referred himself was the first to interrupt them. This is the first time in years i have seen Durdan talk this much. If you are capable of doing that stein then i do believe i will be joining your side of the table. Farad sat beside stein who confused by the interruption paused. Then regained his composure as he said...
Well, um, we were actually discussing in just what ways a cartographer can derail plans of generals. Tweaking the scaling on the maps being the most obvious one of course, but at the same time the most traceable one. But trade route maps... now that is a whole different business altogether
Stein took one of Durdan’s maps while the people in the room observed him with amusement and quite a bit of interest.
Stein pointed out at the roads marked to and from wade.
These roads here, all of them are taxed. And not too cheaply i might add. Traders have been for years making their own paths, the secret roads. It is by them that they tend to transport their goods to avoid the taxation. Now any army of the city has their own supplies. You hit those first, you create the need for more. Then you block the trade roads and keep the supplies from coming.
Peter observed stein with interest. Useless in battle as this man might be, there is cunningness in him.
Eines then joined the discussion.
Lady Mary here tells me that you have been having problems truly acting within the city because you want to avoid innocent people getting hurt in the process.
Yes…peter said with a grumpy tone
Durdan was it?
It is Durdan said smiling.
Do you have a detailed map of wade Eines asked with a half amused look?
Durdan took the map out of his bag and unfolded it. It was a beautiful and very intricately detailed map and stein admired the craftsmanship with great interest till he felt a hearty slap on the back of his head.
You are in the way Eines said as she looked over it.
She studied the maps for a while and then took a few coins and placed them on the map.
Here is where you get them.
The room studied the pointed out locations and little by little realization was dawning. Bridges, secluded tunnels, foundation walls of the old wade
Peter then said. We too have thought of that, but we have nothing that they want. Arenians wouldn't send their forces after just anyone.
Eines grinned as she took out her pipe wand and illuminated the room with a controlled hovering fireball
You do now.
Stein stood up look at his sister with a stern expression and said. No. any other way.
Eines just looked at him for a moment...and said. Oh yes and you’re coming with me, with your fancy blades.
Farad looked at them and laughed. Peter, you really brought us some interesting reinforcements this time.
Peter laughed, blame Mary, she made me do it.
Mary hugged stein laughing. I had to, he was blubbering there begging for mercy, poor boy was scared.
Stein turned to Mary with half angry half hurt expression on his face only to see one of the warmest smiles he saw in ages. He thought to himself how can a woman with such cold eyes have such a warm smile
He smiled back and then to his surprise Mary kissed him quite passionately. The room erupted in laughter after seeing his confused face.
Mary then patted him on the cheek loudly proclaiming. He may be a coward but he has a cunning tongue and the skin of a woman, farad you might like him! Farad laughed and said, pay no attention to Mary here. My friend. She likes to make fun of people, but she does have a kind heart hidden somewhere deep behind her forked tongue then farad turned to Eines studying her pipe wand. Were you trained by the sisterhood?
No, my parents and grandfather she replied while producing small dancing flames.
Hmm... Farad contemplated her for a moment then continued. This idea of yours... of luring them... if you were of the sisterhood it wouldn’t have worked... but as it is... it seems doable.
Eines looked at him inquisitively.
They don’t touch the sisters?
Oh no, not even Arenians are crazy enough to mess with the sisterhood. I hear that khali Khedira of the Shivas is now one of the grand matrons, and no mage is foolish enough to dance with Shivas. also let's face it with the training and disciplined skill of the sisters of Anya, Arenians would invite the fury upon themselves such as they haven’t seen since the days of Ophelia Corredan and the dragons uprising...no Arenians certainly don't want the trouble in their last held expanded colony.
We are living in the last battlefield. Once wade is liberated it will be the official end of the Arenian expanse. Five centuries of conquerors and it all ends.
I hear Karan of Areni is a good man said stein .
Peter replied with a grim tone.
That he may be, but he is a good man who rules over a nation of people who were used to have things done their way. He may have proclaimed the equality of wade's citizens. But Karan does not rule this city, his four generals do, and they come from long lines of oppressors. Children are what their parents and their society teaches them and these four are well versed in the art of oppression and tyranny
And unfortunately, our numbers are too few to simply overthrow them or challenge them openly on the fields of wade for a glorious battle to end it all.
Stein and Eines shared a look...a meaningful look of two people who knew each other’s pasts and secrets.
Eines then said. So we erode them from within.
Stein looked at her with a crooked grin. You certainly are eager to join a battle you knew nothing of till today.
With a sour look she replied, those bastards wanted to take my brother... i can't allow that.
Mary laughed loudly to that. Stein looked at her with feigned sulkiness...and then burst into laughter himself.
They drank deep into that night, they ate, they plotted and they planned. And that night they slept with a feeling of belonging somewhere again.
Stein was happy and even Azriel, the small voice only he could hear told him... this one time, maybe it is good that you stayed...
Four generals were not happy. That was the first thing James Bordin heard when he entered the general court. He has been the caretaker of wade for thirty years now. He took great pride in the efficiency of how he ran the city. Besides small incidents, people were kept in order. Taxes were collected, trading performed all under his supervision. Never in his life did he hear that sentence before
Four generals were not happy. His assistant said it very matter-a-factly. The tone of her voice really irked him as he walked to the council room. He wondered why of all things he was annoyed at the woman who had served as his assistant for twelve years now...and then it hit him. She said it like it was something that was a recurring event. Not at all an exception to the monotony of his perfect record. It was the tone of voice one would use to scorn a sloppy lieutenant...
He entered the council room leaving the assistant behind. That was good. Her company at this moment merely agitated him. Bah... they were not happy... never has a conquered kingdom been run so orderly, so impeccably... and he was the reason for that. His unique balance of discipline and diplomacy ran this city as a well-oiled machine.
He opened the doors of the inner chamber as he was called to enter. The four sat behind their desk and offered a seat to him.
I was called
That you were! Said Mara Wilkes. She was a corpulent woman. A well-known arch mage who made sure she had more than enough energy to burn in battle. They say mages are like candles that burn too bright. Short lived. But this woman made sure that her candlewax is plentiful... but i guess same could be said to lesser extent for any of the four generals.
So...sir Bordin. Mara continued while looking at the ledger in her hands.
For the last six weeks we have lost over eighty guardsmen, seventeen mage hunters, our weaponry cache in the northern part of the city, and let's not forget the military rations that were stolen...
James Bordin clenched his fist to the point that due to the searing pain he was pretty sure his nails broke the skin
There was no way...
I wasn't finished sir Bordin. You will be given a chance to explain yourself
Mara then proceeded to read a lengthy list of the military supplies and weaponry shipments that were intercepted and lost in the secret roads.
Bordin felt the cold sweat under his armor... when faced with the compilation of his failures in the last few weeks he felt panic taking him over...was it really that bad the thought? Before there were attacks, sure. People claimed to be with the rebellion but they were so insignificant that their activities were undetected. But it was different now. Oh he knew of these things. It was difficult not to. But not all, he knew nothing of the trading routes. And even his informers knew little to nothing. The word was the rebellion was now lead by a devil woman. That was all he knew... was he going to tell that to the generals? Not if he valued his life... no…he would lie, and hopefully they would believe the lie for a while... at least until he...
He was torn away from his thoughts...
Yes general Mara?
How do you justify all of this?
I...there is an insurrection building up...
Nervous whispering amongst the generals...
But have no fear. Our spies have infiltrated their ranks....one lie at a time he thought...
And soon after we mark their leaders we will destroy them from within.
I see said general Mara leaning forward.
And, these spies of yours were the ones who hid some of the stolen cargo in the basement of your home?
W...what? Bordin stood frozen...cargo? What...
Some of the more valuable items. Tributes to general Milo’s daughter. Her wedding gift. We received information that you were involved. Your house was searched and we found ....a lot
I...general Mara i was framed, this is the work of the insurrectionists...i can find them bring them to you....
That won’t be necessary.
Mara stood up from her chair... quite an accomplishment considering her size. She took her walking stick and pointed it to Bordin... he knew what was about to happen. And he was ready for it.
A bolt of lightning shot across the room only to be met with a shielding spell.
Mara laughed as she pressed on with her attack. Bordin, you should know better than to battle an arch mage... i can keep pressing on you... and pressing...and pressing...
And waste nothing more than fat but you... you are a soldier, a fit man... a strong man... and all you have to burn is your lifespan....
Bordin gritted his teeth... he knew that she was right...he knew well of the nature of magic. Magic is a force one pays with one’s lifespan. And while some can be done without tapping into ones lifespan, past a certain limit... you burn out all the energy you have gotten from food and sleep... and from there on ...you burn.
But Mara... oh she had the energy to burn. Plenty of it... all Arenian arch mages did. They were smart. They cared little for their publish appearance. They were all fat slobs but they were powerful. What did them care of their own appearance? All that fat they could burn out in a day... but from it they would have the power to convert ... and outmatch any regular mage.
Oh yes. Bordin knew all that but Bordin knew something else. Bordin knew that a mage can't both attack and defend.
Your power must be waning general Mara he said with a grin on his face
Waning...let us test it then Mara stopped with the lightning bolts and started charging a spell... he knew the spell...it was a pulverizing crush; she planned to literally crush both him and his shield...
But this spell required a moment, and a moment was all he needed he invested all of his remaining lifespan in this last attack. He knew that his family would be hunted down if he failed to slay all four here and now.
They wouldn't have spread their suspicions around have doubts cast on their own leadership skills. No he would tear this whole room apart. He dropped the shield and with a smile he pointed his casting dagger...
But it was too late. General milo was ready and struck him down with a lightning bolt.
Mara glanced at milo who just said... so who do we appoint to be the new city overseer?
Stein was awakened that morning by peter who rushed into the room. Both him and Mary were naked ... she often visited him. After the first night when she took his virginity and taught him things about lovemaking he presumed her relentless teasing would stop. It did not. He was forever a coward...but he was fine with that.
Get dressed peter said others are already here
He dressed quickly Mary was fast asleep still. He pondered whether or not to wake her up but he remembered she was leading the night raids...Aertes grace...six weeks they were in wade, and the city was in chaos
And Arenians were powerless to stop it. He grinned... who knew... he was actually helpful. His cartographical prowess enabled him to read the secret signs that pointed towards secret roads, and the damage they inflicted the Arenian military was tremendous. And Eines was brilliant. Arenians had twelve trained mage hunters left, and more and more mages joined the rebels.
Things were good.
Things are bad said peter with a grim look.
Stein sipped on a cup of hot Arenian coffee. He liked the brew. One of the few good things Arenians brought to the kingdoms...what happened.
Mary’s Brother Jacob stood before the room and shared the fresh bit of information.
Four generals have decided to purge the city and they have just brought military reinforcements including over a hundred of berserker mages from the homeland. With them there are over twenty elite trackers. They are capable of finding a mage by using his or her residual spell force.
And Jacob paused. Last night twelve of our headquarters were destroyed and our brethren slain.
Over a hundred fell in one night...
Stein stood shocked...Eines?
She escaped. Farad and Durdan too. They should be on the way to outer walls by now and will meet up with the forcers outside of the city. We should leave too.
Stein stood silent...and then whispered ...so sudden...
Jacob looked to the ground and then said...actually...it’s a reprisal...we...kidnapped the daughter of general milo...
You what???? Peter shouted.
We...thought she would make a good bargaining leverage... we...miscalculated.
Room was silent for a moment and then peter said...we are moving out. To the outer camps.
Stein went back to his room .Azriel saw his thoughts as a vortex of fears, panic...and anger... stein. What happened? Stein explained...
I see a lot of angry thoughts. You aren't planning.....
Over a hundred died... stein growled through gritted teeth...all for the sake of greed and arrogance of those who seek dominion over the conquered...
And yet...she stopped in front of the doors to his room...
What could i do... if i was to face them alone on the battlefield...maybe. But to do that.. I would have to tell them , tell all of them... sigh.
I can't do that...
He woke up Mary and told her everything , and soon all together snuck through the hidden tunnels that lead to secret roads.
In the matter of hours they made it to the outside camp. Beyond the city walls the raiders of the trade routes sat around campfires...all grim... all cheerless.
Peter followed Jacob to the spot where general's daughter was kept. Stein had no patience for those things. He was more concerned with finding his sister. He found her by the campfire eating. She has been doing that a lot he mused... it did wonders for her combat abilities, heh.. Arenians referred to her as the devil woman.. And arch mage by her own right. What she lacked in corpulence of an Arenian arch mage she more than made up with skill and resourcefulness. And she was only sixteen...
A twinge of guilt stabbed him in the back of his mind. He was only sixteen when he killed the first time...two hundred and forty seven people....now she was a killer too...
He shook off the thoughts.. He knew they would only take him to bad places and sat next to his sister. In the light of the fire he noticed the redness in her eyes. She cried....
She said looking at him almost spitefully...
He hugged her .. She relaxed and they sat like that till peter arrived.
His face revealed that this night was just made of bad news
Scouts just reported that the roads from wade are blocked, and the army will come out in the dawn to purge these woods. Thankfully they have no dragon riders as no dragon would take an Arenian... but unfortunately neither do we are a little over a hundred here. And there are currently about six hundreds of them preparing to crush us in the morning. And every single one of them a mage.
Stein seemed thoughtful for a moment...
Many of them are of wade...forcibly drafted, aren't they?
Aye peter said with the same grim tone of voice... that they are, but any mage in Arenian military is family bound to the kingdom. If one was to desert or rebel their family would be slain for their transgressions. They will fight us...
So what are our options?
Peter looked to the stars for some time silent...we can run away, break one of the road blocks and leave wade...or we can fight a hopeless battle.
Those are not options Eines said...that is just one option
What? Peter said as he was pulled out of his thoughts.
You would never leave wade.. None of these men and women would....so that is just one option and a fanciful fantasy as the other...
Peter laughed ..You have gotten to know us well... which is what i wanted to talk to you about.
Here it comes said Eines while an expression of deep anger slowly flooded her face.
Peter continued, two of you are not of wade. You could leave. Two people on the road wouldn't ...
He was slammed into a tree by the forceful blast of Eines' spell.
This is what i do to people that annoy me peter...would you like to find out what i do to those that truly enrage me?
Peter got off the ground catching his breath and started laughing.....you two really are something.
Mary and Durdan joined them. Farad followed..
So i guess their answer was no Mary asked smiling. Peter nodded.
Well.. I was sure Eines would refuse, stein is the wimpier one she said laughing as she sat next to stein.
She hugged him and said.. So we die together then...you know. I can’t say that i love you.. We were never that close. At best you were what i needed....
Thrilled to hear that stein replied grimly..
She grabbed his face and made him face her.
However...i am glad to have met you, i am glad to have called you my friend, and yes, i am very glad i have shared my bed with you...
And tomorrow, if fates see it fit, i will be glad to die beside you stein the wanderer...
All that from me too said peter.. Except for sharing the bed...
They all laughed
Stein looked at Eines.. And his look told her everything. She had seen it before. A look of deep regret... of old pain.. But this time also a resolute look.
And stein said.. What if we could win this?
Everyone turned towards him. A baffled expression on their faces.
A hundred and twelve of us, five mages among us , no breathtakers dragonlords or dragoons..... Traps and trickery won’t work if they just set the woods on fire...
Peter said this with a tone of one bringing a dazed person back to reality.
Stein stood silent for a few seconds as everyone regarded him with some curiosity.
The dawn broke and it was beautiful.
Stein stood alone on the field facing the city of wade. Woods were behind him and in the woods many eyes upon him...
Eyes that used to look at him with amusement now seemed alert. Fearful...they had every reason to be.
But the dawn sure was beautiful. Autumn was just around the corner, and fields were at that final push for glory... rich in colors and smells. Birds chirping, pleasant breeze... a day upon which one would just take a nap right there...
It should be grimmer, he thought. Somehow it felt wrong. Many would die today. Nature should have some decency and make the day feel appropriate. This, this just felt wrong.
He watched as the great southern gate of wade opened and the army made its way down ...
There were many of them... people...with families...
Azriel told him, so are the people, you are trying to protect right now..
And it helped.
Not just for the obvious reason of soothing the killer’s remorse.. But it was the word protect...
He was never a protector. How could he be.
Come to think of it he was never a much of anything. His father tried teaching him magic when he was younger. It was a different time. He came from a long line of skilled and smart spell casters. The saying goes that a mage's life is that of a candle burning too bright, but his family knew how to keep the flame in check
He still remembered his trainings..
World and the universe around us are made of necra his father said while grabbing a handful of sand.
Necra is as the tiniest of sand bound together to form matter. Scholars say there is a trinity of forces in action when one becomes a mage. A soul or anu, uses life-force or maga to manipulate matter , or necra.
Stein was twelve back then and he had broken about fifty practice wands that day alone.
His father continued. You use a caster weapon to weave a spell. Look at this spiral on it.
Stein glanced at the wand with only a half interested look.. He knew all this by then of course but his father hoped that it was the theory that made him fail over and over
This is used for you to channel your maga and mix it with necra. This results in the formation of the spell
Now, why did the wands break.
Stein looked on the ground at the pile of shattered wands...
Because they are crap?
His father laughed but got serious quickly. No! Danger in untrained magic is that with a strong caster weapon a novice mage would use up his permanent life-force too fast. Goal of using magic wisely is to merely use the daily maga, one which can be regenerated by food and sleep. . This is why practice wands have a very thin and breakable spiral engraved. It is to stop you from releasing too much maga and end up hurting your lifespan.
Stein kept trying.. And failing. For some reason even then it was clear that he could not control his spellwork ..At all. His sister could, she was a prodigy. Stein could not.
Soon it became apparent that magic was not his domain. His father asked for a favor with the scholars of the University of Ardunat, and stein was schooled in cartography instead.
It was interesting, and he liked it ...he found his place in the world back then and all was good.
But then he turned sixteen. That was the age everyone was allowed to pull a weapon from the faetree of Ardunat. He could care less about weaponry. His swordsmanship was laughable anyways. But customs were customs. And so he too came to the tree.
He could care less about which weapon he would pull out. But the problem was all of them were really heavy looking swords and spears and axes. He looked for the lightest ones he could see. and right at the top of the tree two, very light looking shortswords were embedded. They seemed to be a matching set.
Stein figured, why not?
That day two hundred and forty seven died. He realized why his spellcasting was so erratic and uncontrollable too...
That day, with the best spellcasting weapon in his hands his power was unleashed. He ran afterwards. His sister found him, told him no one knows who did it, but that people of Ardunat were fleeing. Their family was too and she came to bring him back. Stein refused. He knew what he was now.. A voice only he could hear told him all about it. He can’t come back.
So instead Eines came with him.
Back out of his memories , stein smiled.
Last night when he shared this tale around the campfire as more and more came to listen he had to repeat parts of it... but by its end there was a dead silence. Many didn’t believe him, so he had shown it.
Over the last three years he had learned to control it. Oh, not aim , he could never aim his spells and pulses.. But he knew how to stop them. And he knew how to unravel his form to become what the rare few who saw it called the reaper of Ardunat. This was what he had shown them last night. As he was pulsating between in and out of existence, a mirage of death and all the terrors of the night he saw fear in the faces of his friends.
But then he promised them, he would liberate wade for them this day.
All they needed to do is stay back in the woods. Stay far away.
They did just that. Stein was all alone on that field and the army was fast approaching. He cast one last glance around the field..
Such a shame....and it was so beautiful.
He saw a woman in an elaborate armor step forward. Not one of the top brass he though. Arenian arch mages rely on over eating as their spell fuel. This woman was slender.
We demand the daughter of general milo to be returned. This and only this will give you any chance of survival.
Stein nodded and signaled to the rebels in the woods. Soon a young woman came out of the woods. As she passed stein he said.
Don’t linger, as soon as you pass the army, run as far as you can.
She shot him a dirty look and just whispered.
I would have no interest in seeing your puny rebellion massacred. I have seen your numbers and they are unimpressive.
She moved away and stein gave her a sad smile.
Still, he noted , once she reached their ranks she ran, and she ran fast for a privileged brat.
He knew what came next. Such is the way of the world. You don’t bargain with an enemy you find weaker and dangerous at the same time.
Without a warning a fireball flew his way.
He shielded himself and with no small irony he noticed that for once that was enough. Others were in the forest.
Lieutenant laughed. A fellow spell caster i see. Pity, we could use more in our ranks. Still. Our numbers will drain you of your life fast.
They started pummeling stein who merely stood there observing them.
After a while confusion was dawning on their faces. The sheer combination of their attacks should have been so straining on the shield that the man should have been dead by now. His lifespan fully drained, and yet here they were , dangerously close to tapping into their own lifespan and this boy just smiled.
The barrage stopped.
Stein then spoke
We want the Arenian forces to leave the free city of wade. You will be granted safe passage...stein waited till the laughter subsided...you will be granted safe passage and none of you must die.
Lieutenant studied him for a moment unsure what to make of him. He was scrawny for a man... entirely unimpressive. By now he blocked enough firepower to drop an arch mage and there was no single sign of fatigue on him. Something was amiss here.
We know your numbers she said. And we know that you are limited in sheer mage firepower.
We on the other hand number six hundred and fifty two. You are severely outmatched.
You are right about the numbers stein said ... you are wrong about the limitations of our mage firepower.
Really she smirked? Impress me.
It’s unlimited.. If a little hard to control.
A confused look....
Stein looked at the forces in front of him. We have six mages.. But to destroy you, they only needed me
What makes you so impressive?
Hardly impressive.. More...defective. You might say i was born a little damaged.
Lieutenant narrowed her eyes as a terrible though occurred to her...
Who are you?
In that very moment a very corpulent woman broke through the ranks shouting,
What is the holdup lieutenant ?
Then she shot stein a disguised look. Observed his shielding and said, what are you waiting for hammer him down and move o!
We… Tried that general Mara
Ash general Mara stein interrupted, i heard stories about you.. Nothing good...
And you would be? She said as she readied her weapon.
Me, I’m stein, stein the wanderer...
Stein the dead man seems more appropriate...
Oh no, i prefer my other name...
He noticed lieutenant pulling back.. An idea dawning in her eyes.. A terrible fear... she knew he thought and smiled.
The reaper of Ardunat stein proclaimed. And created a single pulse that knocked Mara back into her troops.. Twelve people cushioned her fall...
Mara screamed frothing with rage, destroy him , kill him now!!!
All hell broke loose fire and lightning engulfed the field, and soon only dust clouds were visible.
Mara got up looking at the place where stein was before and then ...several things happened at once.
Out of the forest ran out Jacob, and a few other rebels, followed by his sister Mary. Somewhere in the back Eines screamed for them to stop...
Their intentions were good... but they made a horrible mistake.
Stein felt that familiar tingling feeling of unraveling. His body was an unstable form , pulsating in and out of existence, a dark mirage of death flickering in front of Mara. Terror dawned in her eyes, and it was the last thing to ever dawn for her. The pulse was swift, destructive and in all directions. Stein took out over three hindered Arenian soldiers in a single pulse that day... and six rebels. Jacob brother of Mary was one of them while Mary herself was injured.
Somewhere in the back Eines , peter and the rest of the rebels handled a second smaller wave of elite forces that was led by general milo. Eines defeated him and made him face the reality of their defeat when she had shown him the destruction stein caused.
Stein stopped and asked for Arenian surrender once more. They were paralyzed with fear hiding behind spell shields. Then from the woods they heard general milo screaming , we surrender...
It was over. Wade was liberated... only later did stein find out of the fallen allies, of whom he had killed.. When he faced Mary the look in her one remaining good eye was enough to tell him it was highly unlikely she would ever forgive him.
He had to accept that...but he had accepted worse things in life.. And for once he knew this was not his fault. He didn't need Azriel to tell him that.
Remaining three generals left wade and took their forces with them with the message to Karan of Areni. Wade is a free city , and it is looked after by the reaper of Ardunat.
Peter took control over the city, and soon was appointed king. Stein and Eines left soon after they knew it was for the best to stick around for paid assassins hired by unhappy families of Arenians and people of Ardunat to come after them.
Still, friendships remained strong, and wade was free. Free under the sigil of the wanderer