“If they call me a mad man, who am I to disappoint?”
Carter Svan, on The Matters of War and Duty
My Dearest Theresa,
I hope you are well. I know it has been awhile since I last wrote. For that I am sorry. I do not mean to worry you my love. Things are going well here. As well as they could be I suppose. I do miss home, I miss it more each day. I can’t imagine the struggle you are going through without me there, there aren’t words for how grateful I am for what you’ve taken on. I only hope the gold I’m earning is worth it like we thought.
I believe our part in the war is over, at least that’s what Madman Svan told me today. He seems to think the fountain we found today was the actual objective of Eurie and Orinthal as a whole…
“Sir,” The young soldier in his twenties called out. A man a decade or more his senior turn his head to see who stood behind him.
“Yes?” The voice answered more annoyed than anything else.
“It’s the front, they are asking for a report.”
“What is your name?” The man covered in metal armor and the blood of what Henry could only assume was not his own.
“Henry, Henry Ferrier sir.” Henry called out mechanically. Madman Svan turned around to face Henry. He was covered in their blood. The blood dripped down his armor, blood of whoever stood between Svan and this Fountain. Henry made note of how effortlessly Svan held the lance in his right hand. A weapon meant for two hands, this man held with ease in one.
“Nice to meet you Henry, my name is Svan.” The madman said drinking from a mug in his left hand.
“The pleasure is mine, your reputation precedes you.” Svan chuckled into the mug as he drank.
“Does it?” He asked bewildered. “Which reputation is that? The killer or the king?” Henry’s eyes widened.
“I…” Henry managed to muttered out. Svan smiled a wicked smile.
“It’s okay boy.” The man said thrusting his lance into the freshly blood stained dirt. “I’m not going to hurt you. We are on the same side. Even if the men don’t think that.” Henry nodded, trying his best not to step out of place. There was a tension in the air he didn’t understand. If they were allies, why was Hendry afraid for his life? Svan turned around to look at the fountain again.
Henry stared past Svan and onto the fountain. A cascading waterfall at least twenty feet tall., the water poured off each step and down to the next effortlessly, making little noise as it did so. Lush green foliage filled the edges between the water trodden stone steps and the recess of the mountain. At the top of the seemingly natural fountain a piece of the mountain had been carved into a smooth circle. The foliage grew around it, as if making some armistice. Where foliage grew a ring was made with few patches missing. In the center of the ring Henry saw the familiar horn with a line through it from the top left to the bottom right. Cenlore’s Mark.
“Why are you here?” Svan asked staring at the fountain. Henry was not sure whether that was meant for him or the fountain. Svan turned his head to his side, looking at him with one eye. “Henry? Why are you here?”
“Oh right me,” Henry said. “The front, they want a status update on the fountain.” Svan sighed.
“That’s not what I meant Henry.” Svan said exasperated. He put his back to the fountain and stepped toward Henry. “What brought you here to Arkahnis? A land ravaged in war for longer than we’ve been alive.” Svan said through gritted teeth. The anger seeped from his very veins as he spoke, it was unmistakable.
“To serv-” Svan swiped a flat hand through the air in a cutting motion.
“I’m no politician kid. Why did you enlist? What brought YOU here?” Svan barked. Henry took a step back and put a hand on the hook at his waist where his mallet hung. Svan noticed the change. “What part of I’m not a threat, did you not understand?” Svan sighed as he spoke. “I just want to know your why.”
“Gold,” Henry found himself speaking without his consent. “The misses and I, we want to start a home. I am a good blacksmith, but Eurie promised me gold to fight. They also promised that I would learn to be a better smith.” Svan nodded at Henry, approving something that wasn’t sought after.
“And have you found it?” Svan asked relaxing his shoulders as the two spoke.
“Yes, Eurie pays well and this whole campaign I’ve been making weapons. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better.” Henry replied confidently.
“Good, our war is over Henry.” Svan told him pointing to the fountain.
“That right there is why we are here. Do you know what it is?” Svan asked him earnestly.
“A Fountain of Cenlore, the devout worship at them in Eurie and other towns in Orinthall. Riverside is planning to make one.” Svan smiled at him. The kind of smile an adult gives a small child who answered a question, the exact way they were expected to.
“This is a real Fountain fo Cenlore.” Henry opened his mouth to ask what that meant but stopped when Svan continued on. “The mark, the natural state of the fountain itself, you can see this was not built by man. This was built by Cenlore himself, or perhaps one of his children. You know this is a real fountain by the thickness in the air. You can feel it can’t you?” Henry nodded.
“I thought that was the tension in the air, I confused it with the sense of you attacking me.” The madman nodded at that. Henry decided he would take the nod as a confirmation of his safety. At the very least Svan’s intent was not to kill Henry, that much he had told himself was confirmed.
“That’s the torrent.” Svan said calmly.
“The…” Henry didn’t want to say it, but he found no other way to communicate the meaning. “The Arcane Torrent?” He asked the warrior opposite of him.
“The same.” Svan studied the fountain. “This is what they came for. The legends describe a war between the gods. They speak of a great battle that happened on Goarahn. A war that wiped the planet clean. A war so terrible that Elya of Creation had to restore the world to something hospitable. She had to recreate almost everything. It was then the Arch-Gods made a pact not to set foot on Goarahn again. Instead they chose to fight their battles through smaller gods and their children. They wove influence throughout the world, and Cenlore chose to leave fountains. Some say it’s because water provides life and hope, others say the very water is infused with the Arcane Torrent itself. Either way the rumors are enough that Eurie and Orinthal as a whole sent an army to claim it.”
“What are they going to do with the Torrent?” Henry asked.
“The same thing powerful people always do, misuse it.” Svan said picking his lance up. “They won’t mean to at first, they will have good intentions Henry. Us mortals always do. I suppose we should get going then?” Svan asked Henry as if all of this was normal.
“What about the Arcane Wars? Weren’t those terrible and didn’t they rip our world into pieces?” Henry found himself shouting. He was angry, the ignorance of man was going to ruin this world. The same world Theresa took her breathes in. Svan nodded solemnly.
“If we learned from history Henry, we wouldn’t be fighting a war over sources of the Arcane Torrent.” He stepped beside Henry, facing the path down the mountain. Henry watched the water cascade down the stone steps. “The torrent is everywhere, and nowhere all of the time. This land, Arkahnis has some of the thinnest barriers between Goarahn and the Arcane Torrent. It’s easier to pull from here, and with that, it’s easier to use. Which means-”
“Weapons...” Henry said knowingly. “They want to make weapons.” Svan began walking down the path whistling a folk song from Eurie titled “The Long Road Home.” Henry wanted to scream and cry. All of this fighting was for nothing more than more power. Eurie had been telling all of Orinthal they fought to liberate the land from this war. This century long war was nothing more than one giant power struggle. Henry felt more than disappointed in himself for being so foolish...
They say the Architects will be done with their work by the end of the week and we can go home after that. Plenty of soldiers will stay behind, but my unit is said to be heading home. I hope to see you soon. I miss you. Perhaps, I even miss you more than you’re cooking. Though, I’ve been spoiled by your pot. I must go now, but I’ll write again before we leave. I send this letter with all my love.
"Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, it's often the most different from us that become our saviors."
(Justicar Svan, Equality Talks of Ehyos, 405)
The half elf's armor was practically cooking him alive, or at least that's how he felt. He raised his blade up high to meet his foe's. He felt his feet sink a few inches into the muddy battlefield. The monster towered over him covered in demonic armor and outsized him two to one. He slid his blade free from the pressure of his foe's strike and feinted away. Per their usual plan two small forms rushed forward and began their attacks. Dazzling lights whizzed by the half elf's head and struck true into the center mass of the beast before him. The echo of a melodic strum chasing the light danced in the soldier's head. The monster stumbled backwards and the soldier knew what to do next.
Picking up one foot after another the half elf rushed forward and leaped as high as he could muster in his heavy armor. He plunged the metal blade deep into the chest of the monster. His blade tore through the metal armor causing an explosion of ichor to pour forward. The elf couldn't stop himself from going down with the monster. It fell back onto its back, a loud crash muffled by the sound of the surrounding battle.
"Thanks!" The soldier shouted to his friends. With both hands he ripped the blade free from the newly formed cavity and looked around. He looked on to the faces of these new found friends and for a moment he was lost to his memory.
The soldier was crouched low to the ground as he moved through the woods. He was careful not to make anymore noise than necessary. He found himself on the edge of the town of Oxbane, which was now under siege by the very monsters he set free. He knew he needed to get back into town but with these monsters around he was determined to move slow. The last one he fought left him with an aching head and at least an hour nap. The soldier woke up with a piercing headache, his blade still in the jaw of the enemy. He counted himself lucky that the worst of it was a pounding skull. He knew better than to run off alone. He couldn't ignore Allyson's cry for help though.
He hoped the girl was still safe. He had lost track of her in the skirmish and she wasn't around when he woke up. The soldier was just about to leave the tree line, into the open field between Oxbane and the woods, when he heard the audible smash of wood. The smash was followed by yells and weapons being drawn. The soldier cursed silently. He turned around moving as quickly and as silently as he could towards the noise.
As he drew closer he saw three figures fighting one of the monsters that had been released. His stomach sank once more, the feeling of guilt overwhelming him. The monster backhanded the light blue demon with the instrument, sending him colliding into a nearby tree. The soldier slid his weapon into its sheath and scaled the closest tree. As soon as he was high enough the soldier drew his weapon and leaped from the tree.
"What in the wo-" The small man in full metal armor said as the monster kicked him several feet through the air. The soldier brought his blade down into the soldier of the monster. Purchase was found but to the soldier's horror the blade was lodged between bone and armor.
"Quick!" The soldier shouted holding onto his blade with one hand while his other reached for the dagger in his belt. "While it's busy with me take out its legs!" The demon was the first to react. The horned humanoid strummed its instrument and sang words the soldier couldn't understand. A prismatic bolt danced through the air and crashed into the lower half of the monster.
The monster roared out in pain. It began to throw its body around wildly as it smashed its large hands against itself. The soldier held on tight with both hands to his blade as the monster bucked around. Another short statured man charged forward a war hammer in two hands. The soldier watched in awe and horror as the hammer streaked with lightning as it collided with the right knee of the monster. The soldier's sword became more than something to hold onto in that moment, it became a conductor. The soldier let go as the shock split his nerves in twain. He crashed down to the ground, rolling to avoid the monster's large feet as he did so. He put both hands between him and the dirt shoving himself upright again. The world shaking as he stood.
The two small men and the blue demon leaped into action as the monster fell backward crushing another tree as it did so. All three of them had their own unique abilities.
They were not leaving it to chance that this monster was going to survive.
The monster, now full of new holes and leaking ichor, did not move. The guard strained his eyes in an effort to get the world to hold still. He moved mechanically towards his sword. The soldier put both hands between the monster and the tree and pried it free. His blade now covered in ichor, he sighed.
"My luck..." He said as he began to fight with his blade, attempting to free it of its new prison.
"Hey, are you sure you should be doing that?" The small man with a sword larger than itself called out to him.
"Do you have another way of getting it free?" He grunted as he struggled with the blade.
"I could pull it free, but I'm more worried about that thing. What if it comes back to life, or explodes?" The soldier stopped long enough to look over at the small suit of armor.
"What? Why would you think that?"
"I don't know, it looks like it came out of a kid's story book." The small man said.
"So does your blue friend. I don't think he is going to explode if he dies." The soldier said.
"Of course he wo-"
"Will he?" The other small man with the lightning hammer asked incredulously.
"No! I won't explode if I die! How about I don't die?" The blue minstrel shouted. The small man with the oversized sword approached the soldier.
"Let me," He said as he approached. The soldier let go and backed up. "The name is Sir Jodo Foolhill, Knight of the Order of the Unicorn." He said placing both hands on the blade.
"Nice to meet you Sir Foolhill, I am Tjuringa Toon. Soldier and guard of Oxbane." Tjuringa said wiping his gloves free of the ichor on a nearby tree. "Wait did you say Order of the Unicorn?" He asked as the knight pulled the blade free with one good pull.
"I did," He said handing Tjuringa his blade back.
"Right..." He said looking around. "And you are?" He asked looking at the other small man and the blue skinned minstrel.
"Lance Turbolt," The demon said outstretching a hand to shake. Tjuringa shook his hand, he had no ill will to his kind.
"Gyd Geza" The small man pronounced as he said a small prayer over the monster.
"What are you doing?" Tjuringa asked.
"The same thing I would for everything else that takes a breath, saying a small prayer." He said in a matter of fact tone.
"It just tried to kill us, and it came from some portal. It and its friends have been murdering people in my town for the better part of a day." Tjuringa said harsher than he had intended.
"And I'd bet, this thing, like you is following someone else's orders." Gyd replied as if teaching a child. Tjuringa opened his mouth to respond, but found the words never came.
"Either way," Lance said splitting the tension. "What's going on here?" He asked.
"A lot, and it's a long story. I have to get back to town as soon as possible." Tjuringa said looking around to get his bearings.
"More of those?" Lance asked.
"Then you're going to need our help." The knight said confidently. "It looks like the key to fighting these things is not taking them head on alone." Tjuringa didn't want to argue with that, after all there wasn't much to argue. Of course four versus one was better odds.
"I can't ask that of you. I barely know you." Tjuringa said as he found the direction he was looking for.
"By my Order I can't watch a good town be destroyed." The knight responded, more than a little tradition in his voice.
"I can't let this guy die either." The other small man said clapping the knight on the back. "He saved me from a tight jam a while back." Gyd said smiling.
"Will there be alcohol?" Lance asked sliding his instrument on his back.
"Uhhh, yeah there is some in town. But rea-"
"It's settled then," Lance proclaimed. "Lead the way Chinga"
"It's Tjuringa." The soldier said as if to politely correct him.
"That's what I said, come on the alcohol is getting cold. I can feel it." The blue demon said pushing Tjuringa gently in the direction he had just been looking.
"How did you three meet?" Tjuringa whispered as the four of them moved through the woods slowly.
"Is now the best time to be telling our life stories?" Gyd asked the way a teacher would a young student.
"I... right." Tjuringa said more than a little embarrassed. He needed to know more about the three strangers he was bringing back into town.
"Don't listen to them Chinga."
"That's what I said. Anyway, these two were traveling on their way here actually. It wasn't until they got attacked by some bandits on the road near Riverside that I joined them. I saw these two cute little guys fighting half a dozen bandits and at first thought I was rescuing two kids. Turns out, these little guys had it mostly under control all on their own."
"Hey that's not how it happen-" Sir Foolhill protested.
"Shh. You don't want us getting caught do you? Anyway I helped these guys out of a bind and since all of us were headed to Oxbane, I thought I'd keep 'em company." He said smiling.
"The weird thing about those bandits is the ones who kept trying to bite me." Gyd said more than a little confused as he recalled the memory.
"Bite you?" Tjuringa asked. Gyd nodded.
"I told you Gyd, those were vampires. They wanted to eat you because you looked like a tiny child."
"I'm a grown man for my race!" Gyd shouted, his face flushed. Lance laughed under his breath. "Those were not vampires, those things aren't real."
"Wait... Seriously? We just killed something as tall as some of these trees that clearly is one of those "Not from this world" kind of things and you are going to draw the lines at vampires?" He asked incredulously.
"Yes, vampires are story book creatures adults use to keep children in line." Gyd responded.
"Don't you believe in Wen? Like, the God?" He asked his voice cracking from confusion and amusement.
"And?" Gyd replied.
"And... You know, never mind." Lance said silencing himself.
"Shhh," Tjuringa said putting his gloved finger to his mouth. He motioned ahead to the monsters in the field.
"Tjuringa!" Lance shouted swinging the large blade around in a huge arc decapitating one of the fallen monsters. "You with us?" Tjuringa watched as Lance brought the blade to a stop. Tjuringa was amazed Lance was wielding one of the monster's blades in combat, especially considered not long ago that blade held him against a wall and added a new hole for the demon. While magic healed him back to his former self, Tjuringa was still impressed the minstrel could wield such a large blade.
"Yeah I'm here!" Tjuringa shouted back and leaped into the fray once more. The sound of steel against steel surrounding him. Tjuringa counted himself grateful for his new friends as he charged to Lance's side careful to avoid the large swings of the blade.