Sitting by himself underneath a large overhanging tree, Ralfus slowly whittled away at the branch in his left hand. With each incantation, a piece of the slender branch was forcefully torn off, and he continued to do so until there was nothing left. Though focused solely on his magic, he could feel the handful of eyes staring in his direction, and the fear in them. He knew that the display would serve as a deterrent to all those around him and he smiled, as it was how the world should be. He was a mage, one gifted with the power of the elements, and should be revered.
Around him was a group of five men, all who had assented to following through with his cause. Seven altogether, they were less than accommodating to his commands at first, but had quickly fell into place. Yet like uncultured savages, they continued to bicker and move about endlessly while waiting for what was to come.
Throwing the shaved piece of wood in his hand away, “Where’s Ludrick?” He turned to question a tall man who was busy sharpening an array of throwing knives.
“Ludrick? Went to check on Nort earlier. Should be back soon.” The tall man replied, holding up a knife to gauge its sharpness. With a quick flick, the man launched the knife towards a tree a good distance away.
He watched as the man did the same with three more knives. With a content grin, the man then got up to go fetch them.
He looked to the other four, and they continued to do what they were doing. Three of them were arguing over a game of rings, while the fifth was trying to cook some sort of slop with the supplies they had left.
He stood up and broke a branch from the tree before starting on another incantation.
They had been waiting, hiding in the woods alongside the road to Gravas for the past two days. Not wanting to miss his target, he had made sure all his companions were assembled and out of Ferrent before the mages and knights returned from their campaign. If what Urixx said was true, then it would only be a matter of time until Lord Varath and his group caught up to them.
Their camp being almost a day’s ride from Ferrent, and he had gone over his plan with the crew plenty of times, making sure they knew what to do and what they might be up against.
He himself had never seen the Varath guards in action, but if they were anything like those of his own family, it would not be much of a problem.
As the afternoon came around, someone approached their small camp.
“Ludrick?” Someone questioned.
A skinny bearded man in his early forties burst through the bushes with a wide grin on his face. “They’re here! Hurry!” Ludrick shouted, shattering the peaceful afternoon.
Just as they had talked about and prepared for, everyone dropped whatever they were doing and grabbed their weapons. Two men picked up their bows, another grabbed the knives he had been sharpening, and the other two tied their swords to their waist. Already equipped with his own weapon, Ludrick ushered them to quicken the pace.
“How many?” Ralfus questioned, standing from his spot.
“Didn’t stay to count, but looked to be around a dozen. All were traveling on horseback, so we have to move fast.”
“To your positions then.” He ordered.
Unwary and talking amongst themselves, there were fourteen of them altogether with Lord Varath at the center.
Hiding in his spot at the bend of the road, Ralfus watched as the group approached. His men were already in position along both sides of the path, and all that was left, was for the group to come into their range.
Scanning the riders, he quickly spotted the one he was looking for. On a brown steed riding in front, a man in his mid-thirties with short red hair was conversing with the two beside him.
Keeping out of sight, he quietly waited for his men to make the first move.
The plan was simple. A surprise attack with the archers, while the others rush in to block to the road and attack the remaining guards. With the ambush, he himself would assist from the shadows and help the others to kill his target during the confusion.
As the group neared the trap, one of the riders suddenly screamed and fell from their horse, followed by another. It was the signal. The two archers had accomplished their job, and it was time to begin.
“Archers!” One of the horsemen shouted, trying to keep from falling off the panicked horse.
“NOW!” His five men screamed and rushed out of the woods to surround the group.
With the engagement, “Asiran. Dasuu enran verus. Edas nae…” Ralfus began invoking an earth spell.
Being so far from Ferrent, there was nothing to hold him back, and he would not allow the chance to go to waste. There was no need to make it look like an accident anymore, for by the time news of the attack reaches Ferrent and someone is sent to investigate, he would be long gone. It would just be another senseless attack against those traveling through.
The trip was supposed to be a quick and easy one. Go to Gravas, renew the trade agreements with the other town and village elders, then return to Ferrent. They had done it every year for the past three years, and nothing like this had ever happened before. Around him, two of his companions had already fallen, and the horses were bucking wildly.
Hastily dismounting, “Shields! Five to the front! The rest surround the Lord!” Troyle ordered as their assailants emerged from the woods.
The others were also dismounting and scrambling to put up a defense, as another man fell to the ground with an arrow in his side.
“My Lord!” Troyle shouted, seeing Lord Varath trying to help Lenard who had been the first to go down. There was an arrow in the man’s shoulder, and he had fallen off his horse. Grabbing the lord’s arm, Troyle pulled the lord away.
“GYAH!! What is this?!” Those who had moved to cover their defense screamed, and he turned around. Three of them had sunk into the ground up to their waist, and were struggling to escape a muddy pit that had not been there before. The other two were able to avoid the pit, but bandits were already upon them.
‘What is going on?!’ His thoughts cried out. ‘A mage?!’
Two bandits broke off from the group and headed straight for those who were trapped. “NOOO!!” Troyle screamed, seeing what their purpose was. The news from two days ago about Galivia surged forth from the depths of his mind. Releasing the lord as the other guards closed in on their position, he grasped his two swords and rushed forward to help his companions who were being slaughtered.
Like a virulent squall, he closed in on their assailants.
Two swords at the ready, twin fangs ripped apart one of the men who was busy attempting to eviscerate the remaining trapped guard. With both swords in motion, he spun and slashed at another bandit to his side, knocking the man back. “Retreat!” Troyle shouted to the other guards as he stood his ground.
“What the fuck is this?! I thought this was supposed to be easy!?” One of the bandit’s exclaimed, going into a defensive stance upon seeing his companion fall.
Troyle glanced at his sides. The two guards who had managed to evade the trap were locked in combat, and the man who was caught in the mud pit was still unable to get out. He needed to find and somehow deal with the mage before it was too late, or their whole group would be in trouble. With his speed he could somewhat fight, but against a hidden mage, his chances were non-existent.
Lowering his swords to his sides, he fell into blade form to calm and relax his mind. The two men before him were watching carefully, preparing themselves.
Lowering his stance, Troyle dashed forward.
“Do something!” One of the two men screamed, holding out their weapons.
“!” From the corner of his eyes, the ground bulged out and a vine suddenly shot forth from his left side, whipping toward him. Changing his direction to the right, he swung in a horizontal crescent and sliced the vine in half. “Troyle!” One of the guard’s cried out and something flickered through the air. ‘?!’ The archers hiding in the woods had changed their targets. Contorting his body in an attempt to bring his swords up to deflect the arrows, the two bandits who had been watching, waiting for an opening jumped in on him. In front of him, with a mind of its own, the vine that he had just cut was swinging back around at his stomach. ‘Fuck!’ They were after him. He braced himself.
*SHLUCK!* the sound of surprising gasps and gurgling resounded through the atmosphere.
It had not moved, for its charge was never in danger of losing his life. Yet with the coordinated attack upon the man, from one of the swords, the entity exploded outward.
Like pitch black lightning, Feziel suffused through the air, forking outward. Swift and merciless, its liquid metal transformed into spikes, extending and piercing through the two that threatened the man in its protection.
Ralfus’ eyes widened in ghastly shock.
Instead of his men impaling their target, something indescribable had occurred.
Pitch black spikes had shot out from one of the man’s swords, forking in every direction and piercing his men. It had even penetrated and absorbed their steel swords, even the arrows. As rapidly as they emerged, the black spikes retracted back into the man’s weapon, leaving the man in confusion.
His own men fell to the ground, gurgling in pools of their own blood.
‘W-what just happened?!?’ He cried out internally, unable to believe what he had just witnessed.
Upon seeing the unnatural spectacle and their companions going down, the two remaining who had been locked in combat with the guards quickly broke off and fled into the woods, leaving the three bodies behind.
‘Those cowards! This can’t be!!’ His head screamed, seeing his vengeance slowly vanishing before him. Without thinking about his position, he quickly began invoking a fire spell, sending a stream of flames at the man to try and finish everything.
“!” From the same sword, a wall of blackness surged outward once more, forming into a large round shield and stopping the flames. Something else entirely began pouring out from the black mass and shot straight in his direction.
Immediately regretting his decision that was made in haste, “No!” Ralfus shrieked. Turning, he attempted to flee as well, but was too late.
The black substance grabbed the back of his neck and he could feel that it was cold and hard, almost metallic.
“No!! Let me go!!” He screamed as the pressure intensified, and felt his neck being crushed. “STOP!!” A voice came through from behind him, and the crushing pain lessened. Falling to his knees at being released, he attempted to crawl away, while trying to catch his breath.
“You’re the mage?!” An angry looking man was staring down at him.
It was his target, and father of the child who had unjustly taken his arm.
Various questions were begging for answers, but answers were the furthest things from his mind. Whatever came out of his sword had stopped at his command, and that was all the clarification he needed. It could understand him, and he was quite certain he knew what it was, and who it belonged to. Adalina had already informed him about the small ring around his daughter’s neck, and he was quite sure they were more or less the same.
On the ground before him, was the person who had obstructed their passage and caused the death of his companions. His friends.
Axel’s recollection about the attack on Kerkhill resurfaced in his head. A mage leading bandits against innocent people, slaughtering them in the name of cleansing. Before him was one such person. Ignoring the entity that had appeared from his sword, he angled the blade down at the young mage’s neck. Looking to be barely in his twenties, the young man’s face was filled with panic and pain, along with raw hatred.
Staring at the young man with pitiless eyes. “Who are you, and why?” Troyle questioned, baring his anger and ready to cut the man down.
*Cough* the young man glared back while rubbing the side of his neck, but refused to reply.
“Troyle!” The lord’s voice came from behind him. Not taking his eyes off the mage, the sound of foots steps quickly rushed over to them.
Upon reaching where they were, “YOU!” Lord Varath exclaimed in surprise. “I know you!”
-Malpaars. Capital Maverus-
A tired and aged man sat alone within his chambers, silently staring into the clear evening sky. With dark sunken eyes and trimmed graying hair, his body too, was but a husk of its robust and stalwart physique from barely two years ago.
In his mind, his troubled thoughts no longer remained silent, and the sense of erroneous mistake within him had already corroded much of his mentality.
He was but a false monarch, handed the reigns of the country upon the sacrifice of thousands, only to be subjugated to the will of others. A man with no real power or voice of his own, relegated to making empty promises to those who had lost something during the war, or to the rampant banditry happening around the country.
His righteousness had blinded him, and by the time the cloud of justice and loyalty settled, he was already trapped and without a way out.
Outside the window, the frost birds chirped freely and loudly, and he quietly watched as the flock moved in unison, undulating like a wave in the sky. With a deep sigh, the man looked down at the city. As he surveyed all the changes made to the city over the past few years, his eyes gradually fell upon the ground far below his window. The idea of jumping had occurred to him hundreds of times, but as usual, like the coward that he is, he could not bring himself to do it.
As much as he wished to enforce his position and bring order to the country, to his people, it was impossible. His sins could never be washed away, and should they learn of the truth, the country would certainly fall into chaos once again.
All he could do now, was accept that everything was no longer in his hands, and to see to the very end where his folly would lead them.
Sorry to do this to you all, but I’m sure many of you have noticed the releases constantly being late or coming on Saturdays when I said Friday, and Wednesdays when I said Tuesday.
As it is, I’m pushing back various other things to keep up with writing FC, so with this chapter done and many of your worries put to rest, I will be taking a two weeks break to finish and catch up on other things.
With that said, I would like to thank you all, and thank my supporters on Patreon for their generosity. Thank you.
Hopefully I will have a lot of my problems sorted out so that come April, the chapters will be coming out more steadily. As for the next chapter, expect it around the 20th. (Give or take a few days.)
As always, thank you all for reading.