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Mark G Daniels

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Acrusia
By Mark G Daniels
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Accesible Fantasy - developing it, and feedback would be GREAT

PROLOGUE
The giant peaks of the Arcrusian Mountains overlook the plains from the white snowy heavens. They brought with them snow and ice in the dark months, rains in the light. Their springs quenched the thirsts of the lush green landscape. The cool rivers fed the grass, the trees, and all the wild beasts that roamed the valleys. Water would flow all year round, providing the nourishment needed for growth. The sun would rise above the peaks every morning, bringing a torrent of warmth and light. These Mountains gave life to these lands. Every day, every month, every year they fed and warmed and watched over this land; As a father would for his child. They had watched as forests rose, and than fell. The grass grew and conquered the earth. The air cooled and beasts grew. They watched as Man conquered, and began to build. The men took stone from the mountains and built homes. They built walls to protect themselves from other men, and weapons to kill. The men fought each other in great wars where death would cover the lands. The killing would stop, and man was peaceful. The mountains watched as peace endured, and freedom prevailed. The oldest and wisest ruled the young, and man used the land for food and shelter. Man built roads that spanned the land, and they traveled freely along them. They chopped down trees; they made fire and forged steel for machines and weapons. Man had built an impressive society with a shared culture, language and custom. This empire was now born, and it was named after its father, The Arcrusian Empire.

The eastern Gate of Atriop seldom got used these days, and manning it was a dreary task. Goods came mainly from the capital city to the west so activity on this side was nonexistent. To the east the mountains lay; beyond that was a mystery. The wooden walls surrounded the town protecting the citizens from any external threat which the valleys surrounding may possess. As war was a distant memory wild animals and the occasional bandit were the only current problems contended with. At stages in the wall guard towers stood, where archers and swordsmen could watch the land outside. Atop one of these towers stood Lucious. He was an Archer, but was also handy with a sword, and he was bored, cold and wet. Lucious had done this duty now for a year, and not once had anything interesting occurred. He cursed himself for his desire to pursue a career as town guard. Idealistic he had large plans to be town guard, fight for the Arcrusian Empire and slay the enemy. Just like in the great wars of days past. He dreamed of the hero's return where'd all the girls would be quesing up to congratulate their saviour. He still remembers the day he put on his uniform, the steel chest armour with the Emerald green snake inscription of Atriop. He had read out the guard's oath in front of all his friends and his older sister Liberty, his only family. He was awarded his sword, and bow, and promised to only use it to defend the empire. Such a proud day, full of hope for the future. The grim reality Lucious found was surprisingly different, as tonight demonstrated. He cursed himself again. ‘Why hadn't I become a blacksmith, or a farmer?’ . He would be earning a lot more money, like all of his friends, and wouldn't have to sit on this tower every night. Lucious trained daily to rise in rank so he could put this task behind him. Interesting jobs were only reserved for those of higher rank, and they also got the best women.
The weather was terrible; the rain hadn’t stopped for three days and the winds fury savagely beat the town's wooden walls. The altitude of Atriop meant this wind was bitterly cold and the guard tower swayed and creaked to Lucious's severe displeasure. The rain was thrown sideways under the canvas top of the guard tower, so staying dry was impossible. He wrapped himself tighter in his dark green guard's cloak and looked out across the dark valley. Thunder and lightning danced across the sky causing a rare light display. It was a great sight Lucious admitted, but he'd still rather be in bed. His thoughts were interrupted by Captain Garic's bellowing voice from the town floor.
'LUCIOUS!' he shouted.
'Lucious are you up there?!' The guards loathed Garic. He was fat, lazy, and incompetent, an embarrassment to the soldiering profession. Lucious considered himself a good Guard. Even though he hated watch duty, he still took his role seriously. 'LUCIOUS, you had better not be asleep up there, its freezing and I want to get back into the fort. There's lots of paper work to do'. Lucious almost laughed out loud 'Paperwork' he thought, ‘yeah right’. All Garic did was sat in the confines of the fort ' the only concrete building in the town and put his feet up next to the fire. Lucious stood up slowly from the watch bench, his bones creaking from the cold in the process. He walked to the edge and peered down at the unpleasant man below 'Yes Garic, what is it?' Garic stood there with a fur jacket on and a flame torch shuffling on the spot in the cold. The wind meant he had to raise his voice to be heard. 'Anything to report?' the Captain asked. Lucious detested these ridiculous questions. It was plainly obvious there was nothing to report, or the bell would be ringing. 'No Garic, nothing to report'. 'Ok Lucious, carry on'. The unpopular Captain waddled off to harass the other eastern guard tower, and would undoubtedly return to the fort to warm up on the fire ' 'fat bastard' Lucious muttered, followed by a chuckle. The only reason 'Captain' Garic held such rank was because his father was a town elder, and that ensured a high ranking, highly paid job. Lucious perched himself back on the bench tightening his cloak around himself, and crossed his arms rubbing his torso. He could see his breath as he exhaled, and he knew an illness was on its way. Three more hours to go and he could return home to sleep half the day away. His sister Liberty would make him a good meal for when he woke up, as she always did. With that positive thought in mind he looked back out across the darkness of the green valley, and as a flash of lightning rippled across the overcast sky ' he saw something.
It appeared to be a lone man standing right on the horizon amongst the sparse trees. The outline only became visible as the lightning's electric ripples passed across the sky. Every few seconds the 'man' became visible than as darkness returned, it was hidden again. Lucious stood and went to the edge of the tower. He strained his eyes to see. It had a man’s outline, appeared to be cloaked, whcihc flapped in the wind. It couldn't have been a traveller, as no one travelled after dark in Acrusia. There was nothing to the east except the mountains, and beyond that no one knew. Unsure as to what to do he looked to the other guard tower. The wind and rain meant he couldn't shout to Michael to see if he saw it, he looked to the bell pondering whether this was the right time to ring it. The bell very rarely gets rang; the last time was a childhood memory for Lucious, just a mountain lion. This figure on the other hand was no lion, and it just stood there looking over the town. Its ominous appearance began to worry the guard. Lucious continued to watch, it could be just a lone traveller? A Bandit? Something from within told him this was an optimistic thought.

As he looked the figure moved. The lone eastern town guardsman continued to watch intently as the figure began to raise his arms to the heavens.’hmmmm, odd’. He stood to approach the bell, but as he did so one last glance stopped him in his tracks. The weather…. It was changing. Lucious looked worryingly at the sky as the lightning appeared to increase in intensity, the flashes slowly increased in speed. His face now contorted in confusion, mouth partially widened.
BANG!
A bolt of lightning striked the earth just around the figure on the hilltop causing Lucious to jump back, its bright white flash temporally blinding the young man.
BANG!
Again it happened, and with the imprint of the previous bolt still burned in his vision another bolt flew out of the heavens blasting the ground.
BANG!
Again Lucious jumped back as one by one the flashes lit up the sky. His heart pounding he realised also that the wind was increasing in ferocity ‘what in Acrusia is happening’ he thought to himself as he attempted to regain composure. He approached the town bell, but a sudden blast of wind swayed the tower causing him to lose balance tripping. He fell forwards hitting the wooden floor his bow fell from his hands skidding along its watery wooden coating. He crawled to the edge of the tower holding onto the rail for security. The tower now swayed and creaked from the wind uncontrollably, as the rain now flew in all directions oblivious to gravity. The deafening roar of lighting continued as the sky was ablaze with flash after flash of bright white light.
‘BANG’
Followed by a thunderous roar. The grey rain clouds started to swirl around in a cocktail of wind and light. The echoes bounced off of the mountains only to return amplifying the already horrifying noise. The entire world seemed to become alight with bright flashes of sound and light. Michael at the other guard tower some one hundred feet from Lucious was undergoing the same experience. He held his hood atop his head as the speed of the wind increased to such a point that the towers were now rocking at an incredible rate. Lucious feared falling as he held the rail so tight his knuckles whitened. The wood could be heard moaning under the energies being focused on it .Its integrity was threatened, cracking and splintering. It seemed as if the weather was being drawn to this lonesome figure on the valley, and the air tingled with electric energy. In the town some people began to come out of their wooden homes immediately stepping into this blizzard of wind, light and loud noise. Lucious world was being thrown around him like a doll, his sense of up and down was lost; his closed eyes were not immune to the sheer quantity of light being blasted out of the sky. He just held on to that rail so hard he could no longer feel it, and just as he almost lost consciousness to this sense overload, everything stopped.

The tower ceased to rock. The rain had stopped pounding the earth. The lightning had stopped entirely and the now clear sky revealed a sea of stars that lit up the world. Lucious let go of the railing and rolled over onto his back in relief looking to the sky 'How could this of happened?' The weather had disappeared completely, and now all was calm and clear, the sounds fading away from his short term memory like a departing wave. He breathed heavily and his heart still pounded. He was soaked with rain water but he continued to lie looking upwards as he mentally absorbed the last few moments. Aware he could still think he groped his chest with his hands, fortunate everything was intact. ‘I’m still alive’ he thought. ‘SO GET UP!’ his conscience demanded. He rolled over to his front with a moan from the effort, and pushed himself up with his hands. Standing now he than looked back down into the valley and his heart froze. What he saw before him caused the hairs on his body stand on end. On the valley the figure still stood there. He was cloaked, but even from this distance one feature stood out. His eyes. They were lit up like bright torches, and the expression in them was clear. This had the appearance of a man, and he looked upon Atriop from the high valley with sheer hatred and disgust. This expression contained such raw emotion, such raw hatred, and it was directed at this innocent small town. At that point Lucious knew something terrible was standing atop the valley. Something that was a threat to this town, and its people.
His soldier instinct screamed from somewhere inside of him as he grabbed the sword from his belt standing poised, battle ready. He had heard of powerful magicians before, the town had some magical healers, but this was something very different. The power required to do that would be more than anything Lucious of heard of before, or dreamed about. The figures hands were sparking as if the energy contained within them were immense. In the town the other guards began to awake and their activity could be heard. Garic came storming out of the fort, with a chicken drumstick in his hand. He peered into the now clear sky. 'What is happening here?' he whispered to himself and he waddled quickly towards the eastern tower
'What in Acrusia is happening up there?'.
'Garic…' Lucious replied
'…get all the men to this gate, and try to get the people into the fort’
His eyes stayed transfixed onto the bright eyes that were on the valley.
'What are you talking about?'
Lucious raised his voice; he hadn't the time to answer Brant's impertinent questions.
'By the Great Elders of Acrusia, get the townsfolk into the fort NOW!'
The figure than raised his arms and head once more. Lucious watched as a giant ball of orange and yellow began to amass between his hands. The intensity of the light increased quickly, and so did the size. It was a huge swirling ball of fire and light rotating around the head of the dark figure. The heat could be felt on Lucious’s skin, and he had to look away from the bright orange glow that lit the valley. The light was so bright the people in the town knew something was happening beyond their walls.
‘Everyone to the fort’ Garic demanded, he ran back inside the apparent concrete safety walls and the town bell could be heard from within. Many people still wore their nightclothes, as they shuffled out of their homes to do as commanded. Back in the darkness beyond the gates the swirling ball of fire stood motionless above the man’s head. The figure than dropped his head towards the town. At that millisecond Lucious saw a small smirk cross the figures face as it flung its arms forward toward. Its target was Atriop. Chaos reigned.

The huge ball of fire suddenly hurtled itself towards the town. Lucious ducked down as it flew at an awesome velocity over him followed by a surge of hot wind and light radiating from the sphere. It passed between the Eastern Towers racing to the fort that stood near the East of the town. Lucious just followed its trajectory with a quite awe powerless to do anything. And it hit. For a tiny moment daylight seemed to descend on the town as the explosion ripped into the night sky. A hot barrage of explosive force blasted its way from the outwards sending everyone diving for cover that were close, and was followed by a sound like no other. The sound roared across the lands outside and echoed for seconds through the valley and beyond. As the explosion subsided a huge swirl of cloud and dust mushroomed into the sky, followed by a torrent of bricks and debris that rained down from the heavens. Lucious dived down to the ground in response as bricks hurtled towards him.
As the dust began to clear the damage was obvious. The fort had been pulverized and all that remained of its appearance was one of the towers, which sat atop rubble. The Atriop fort had been destroyed, and was the only sanctity this town had. Panic erupted as the towns people began screaming, and running away from the remains of the only concrete building in Atriop. The shock on the infantry's faces was obvious. Nothing had the power to destroy concrete building so easily. Only armies could do this. Lucious and Michael exchanged their last look as another fireball exploded into Michael's tower causing the wooden structure to explode into thousands of splinters. His molten body was flung through the air and landed in between the gate and the other guardsmen. Lucious dived at the ladder. As he lowered a ball of fire impacted and he was flung from the site of the explosion. Wood rained down and he covered his head with his hands. He was deafened, and he heard only silence as he clambered himself up and dusted the wooden debris off. He was motionless as he looked to the fort, a pile of rubble aflame, a building he knew so well destroyed in an instant. Again the sound of moving flames could be heard and he dived down once again as another ball of sheer energy flew overhead that hit into the first building in its path, a shop which crumbled instantly. The explosion seemed to release Lucious from the shock. ‘Liberty!’ Lucious thought, and began jogging away from the scene of the fort down a lane surrounded by shops. People also ran away from the destruction. As he ran, behind him he heard another building being destroyed, but daren’t look back. He ran on turning right down an alleyway. Stopping to gather his bearings, he looked around him. ‘I’m close’. He continued down the alley, turning onto another lane, this one full of rows of wooden houses and an inn; an inn he knew well. His sister owned it. He ran passed the inn and the place he wanted came into view.

His sister was watching the smoke and light bellowing upwards from the doorstep of their home horror contained on her face. He reached her, grabbed her arm pulling her inside.
'Lucious, what on Acrusia is going on? Is it a fire?’
When he was inside, he closed the front door quickly, his breathing uncontrollable.
'There's no time to explain Liberty’ he leaned on a chair for support, rubbing perspiration from his face ‘you need to get to the basement now'
He grabbed her arm again, pulling her to the trap door.
'Please, what's going on out there'?
He opened the wooden door and led her down the steps. The odour of beer barrels filled their nostrils, but it hardly registered.
'Just please stay in here, and don't move Liberty'.
For a moment he hesitated holding the trap door open looking down at his beloved sister. She could see the fear contained in them.
'Be careful Lucious'
Lucious took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He than reopened them and he looked back towards the sound of carnage his face full of rage, his hand went to his sword. And at that her world was plunged into darkness with a slam. Lucious boots could be heard overhead as he sprinted back out of the house, and than she heard nothing.
ONE
The Eastern road snaked its way across the lands of Acrusia with merchants bringing their much needed goods from the western cities to the towns to the east in exchange for gold. It had carried people for countless years and was witness to a wealth of stories, from tales of bandits to great magicians. The road was a lifeline for the Empire holding together. Without this road, the Empire would simply not exist, as it was vital for trade and movement of essential personnel such as guards and magical healers. On this cool, clear afternoon it contained 4 horses, each sat a person. The elders had heard disturbing news from a lone merchant that there had been some sort of disaster to the east, at the border town. Perhaps the bearer of the news was insane, or he was a drunk. Even so, a Captain of the guard, a sergeant of the Imperial Guard, a magical healer and a scout were ordered to investigate. The scout was to report back instantly once they had ascertained what (if anything) had occurred. The 3 day journey had begun yesterday at the Imperial City, and Captain Bryant was becoming tired. With the sun high in the winter sky, he thought it would be a good time to stop. 'This would be a good time to rest, do you all agree?' He asked. He had been given leadership of the mission, and wanted to get back as soon as possible. The Rebels roamed these parts, and had no mercy for the Imperial Guard. A captain would be a good kill for them. 'Yeah..... This place looks good, ill get the food prepared' Marsha replied. As healer, she was to ensure that the soldiers were looked after. 'Thank the Heavens, I'm starving' Sergeant Michaels exclaimed. He jumped down from the horse, and quickly lay down on the e side of the road. The grass was soft, and he looked up you the sky, breathing out a sigh of relief. 'We still got some of that meat from yesterday, will that be ok with bread everyone?' 'Marsha, that will be great you're cooking is divine', Bryant raised a smile. He got off his horse, and stretched his legs a bit. Bryant was a large man, with light brown skin. He had bright blue eyes and had a unique appearance. His mother was from the Elderon Empire to the south of Acrusia and his dad was a local slum dweller in the Imperial city. They had met when his mother came to the city to find work as a cook, bringing with her strange spices and meats unseen in this land until recently. A mixture of races was rare in the Empire.

'Ill just have a check were ok here' Goldric the scout said 'We don't want any unwelcome visitors'. He left the other three to walk a large perimeter around them. Bryant sat down and lay back on the lush grass. All around was green fields of grass, and he knew no-one would attack here. He chuckled. Goldric took his role very seriously, as newly appointed scout. Every time they stopped Goldric would walk a large square perimeter that took most of his rest. Bryant had tried to explain he didn't have to do it every time, but he had insisted. Danger would not be a factor until they reached the woods later on tonight. At that thought he sat up again and looked to the horizon, He saw the woods they would have to pass through, and a feeling of dread went through him. The woods were where the rebel stronghold resided. Imperial Guard Intelligence had no idea as to the exact location, but they knew it was in the densely packed trees ' somewhere. 'Hey Bryant' Michaels asked. His thought turned away from the woods 'Yes, what's up'. 'Can I err... ask you a ... err¦ personnel question sir, it's just that the guys back at the¦ err barracks have been talking, and they asked me to, well to ask you something' he paused 'if you don't mind of course sir'. Bryant lay back on the grass with a smile, he knew what it was. 'Yes Michaels, seeing as you've got the nerve to do so, I will allow you to ask me anything you would like'. Michaels was a brave soldier, too brave some would argue. 'Is it err... true you are from the slums sir? I mean brought up in the slums, when you was a child'. Marsha looked to Bryant with anticipation as she cut bread. She had wanted to know also, but she had too much respect to ask. Bryant had had this question many times from peers, but this was the first time a lower ranking guard had asked. Its not that Bryant was feared, it was that he was greatly respected. He was tough, but very fair on the guards under his command. Most guards disregarded the rumours' as ridiculous 'How could a Captain be a scum bag like the lot' some of them would say. Bryant replied 'Yes Michaels, I was brought up in section 4 of the slums. My mother and father ran a kitchen there. They sold soup form my mother's homeland and bread very cheaply to the homeless, and that's how we lived'. Michaels than sat up, he was even more interested now. 'No way! , you, a captain of the guard ' a slum boy? This must be a joke'. Marsha cut in 'Michaels, I think that's enough. 'No its okay' Bryant interjected, 'I ask you this Michaels, why is it so hard to believe that I am a captain. Why am I different to the other officers?' Michaels face looked confused, as if the question was ridiculous 'Slum people are lower intelligence than us in the decent quarters. And they smell'. Bryant laughed out loud, 'Ha. Do you mean to say I smell Michaels?' Michaels didn't know how to reply and an uncomfortable pause proceeded. 'Of course not sir, but you're not one of them. How can you be? You're an officer of the Imperial guard, not one of those pieces of riff raff'. The captain sighed, he had experienced this ignorance many times, but it did become tiresome at times. 'Michaels you have a lot to learn young man. I am from the slums, and will die a man from the slums. All because my family no longer lives there today, my roots will always be in the slum, until the day that I die'. Michaels was standing now 'But sir, how can you...’ He was interrupted 'The slum kids, are people to, like it or not the great peaks of Acrusia made me and you as equals. We are the same. You will never be able to patrol the slums until you realize this'. He relaxed 'enough of this anyway. Slum boy is hungry' and at that Marsha passed the captain a plate of the food. 'Smells delicious Marsha, thanks' Bryant smiled again, to Marsha's approval 'Yah Marsha thanks a bunch' Michaels chipped in. He had got his answer and ate quietly. 'You are both welcome. Where is that fool Goldric? He will miss his lunch ' again'. Bryant sat down and looked back out towards the woods and ate the tasty dish he had. He chuckled again as he saw Goldric about ¼ of a mile away, sword in hand jumping around like some sort of action hero bush to bush. He also had a lot to learn. Bryant enjoyed the company of newly recruited soldiers. He found their naivety entertaining, and enjoyed teaching them. He had trained many young men to become professional guards that could defend the empire, if that ever was needed. His thought were interrupted again as just beyond Goldric's theatrical display he looked to the woods. The feeling of dread returned.


The 4 of them had started towards the woods and it was now early evening. The large orange sun began to dip to the west behind them warming their backs as they moved. The sky remained clear and the ground was still damp from the savage storms of a few days prior. The trees thickened at every step, and the road continued to snake as darkness was closing in fast. The sky was revealing a sea of stars, and the moon became visible. Bryant, Michaels and Goldric had disguised their armour by wearing grey healer’s robes, similar to Marsha's, swords strapped to the side of the horses. Attack was rare, as the rebels had an unspoken understanding with the Imperial Elders - Live and let live. Even so, Bryant's natural soldier instinct caused discomfort at this. If attacked they could not respond quickly enough.
‘Sir, do you think we will make it to the forest for tonight?’
‘Well if we keep this pace Michaels, we hopefully shall. If not we will have to set up camp in the trees somewhere. The sky is clear, so it may not rain, but of course it’s quite cold this time of year’

The grand debating chamber in the Imperial City was an astounding site for those that entered. It was made of white marble bricks that were stacked up into an imposing room. The domed ceiling caused angry Elders voices to echo around the chamber for all to here. It held comfortable wooden benches, with grey cushions that surrounded the room in a circular shape, and could seat around 500 people. The huge ceiling was a rare architectural site in the Empire, and was a present from the Elderons when peace was made between the two warring Empires. Debating had gone on all day, and the elderly men and women were tired. No decision was made, and as all the Elders began to shuffle out. Two stayed behind to talk. The two men sat together on the bench at the centre. General Henry wore his military uniform with pride. He was a busy man and was in charge of the Imperial Guard.
'General Henry, good to see you, sorry to interrupt you're schedule, I know you've got that trip to Hifort today, but I though you may be interested in what I have heard'
'Ok, what is it?’
'General, we've heard some strange news from the East. At first we thought nothing of it, but the bearer was covered in what appears to be human blood and….’
Machiavel was clearly interested.
'Well… General, apparently there's been some sort of disaster at Atriop, the border town. We've heard that citizens have been killed by some sort of outside party. We are not sure at all what it is'.
Machiavel looked out across the chamber; he pondered this news
‘And what of it. Like you said just a mad man'
The junior Elder continued
‘Yes that’s true . But sir…. He was carrying the remains of a human baby,
‘OK, so he’s a murderer’ the General replied.
‘I took the liberty of sending 4 Imperial personnel to have a look, but they won't be back for around 5 days'.
Machiavel looked at the junior in shock
‘You did what? Do you know where they have to pass through?!'
'General I know, the rebels ' but they have been inactive for a long time. Murders on the road thought the woods have ceased'.
'Hmmm' Machiavel thought again
'You should have consulted me.’
'Sorry, I will do so in future, but I’m aware of the pressure on everyone due to the premier’s illness so didn’t want to make matters worse’
Silence again
'Where is this man?'
'Well sir naturally, he has been arrested’
The General stood quickly
'Take me to him now'.

The candle flickered softly in the room as air passed over it. Shadows danced around on the concrete brick walls like ghosts, and was the only thing keeping this cold and damp room from plunging into darkness. There were no windows or doors and escape was only possible through a small wooden door in the ceiling, which was stuck. In the day a small amount of light would pass through the cracks of this door, but not enough to overwhelm the dark void of this room. All sorts of things were to be found in here such as broken swords, old clothing and wooden toys. Barrels and crates littered the room containing goods such as carrots, potatoes, and fruit also. They mainly contained beer. Some of the containers had been opened and its contents consumed. One barrel contained the fresh cores of apples, some potatoes skins, vomit and even human excrement. Fortunately this one had been sealed and the foul odour trapped inside. In one corner the candle sat atop a wooden crate, with an opened book next to it. It had been partially read, as the present reader found it hard to concentrate when their thoughts were consumed with worry. Worry for themselves, and the worry for many of their friends and family. Next to the crate sat the young woman. She hugged her knees and looked out into the void, her eyes damp. She had cried more times than she could remember, and had no idea as to how long she had been down here. It felt like an eternity. She was scared of what had happened to her town, and its people. When a day had passed she knew her brother was dead as he would never leave her in this terrible room to suffer. She had sat in the dark silence for almost a day before she found the matches and candles and with no water down here, all there was to drink was ale. She was not familiar to alcohol, and she had become sick but as the days passed her tolerance grew. The food was beginning to turn bad, and she knew she had to get out of here before she starved. Her memories still held the roaring of destruction that’s surrounded her home town. She knew the house above her had collapsed and Liberty was certain this cold basement was to be her tomb.

TWO
With the full moon high the stars lit the way through the woods for the four Imperial personnel. The horses began to struggle on the uneven path and the coldness had got worse as their altitude rose. The mountains came closer at every step. The group continued quietly tiring from the increasing steepness as Michael’s thoughts turned to Atriop.
‘Captain, what exactly are we to expect when we reach Atriop, you haven’t spoke of it’?
‘Well sergeant, I have little information. An order from the Elders chambers was given to me to inspect the town, and make sure everything is in order’
Michaels was bemused.
‘I don’t understand, what could possibly be wrong? I know the town is far from Imperial authority in these lands but….’ he paused ‘Hmmm seems very strange to me Captain if you don’t mind me saying’
‘Of course I don’t mind Michaels, but orders are orders, I’m sure whatever it is we will resolve it tomorrow’.

They continued on up the path. The trees on either side were full of strange noises of wild animals and Bryant wanted to get as far as possible under cover of darkness. Goldric who was scouting ahead could be heard galloping back to the group, he looked alarmed:
‘Captain there are people on the roads, A large group, some on horses – and their well armed’
‘Damn – did they see you soldier?’
‘I don’t think so sir’
Bryant ordered everyone to the trees; the horses struggled to fit into the thick branches that stood like walls on either side of the road.
They found a spot where they could observe the road
‘Listen to me’ Bryant whispered. ‘Grab you’re sword and be ready for anything, but stay quiet, we cannot take on a large group’
The 3 soldiers grabbed their swords; Marsha crouched down in the bushes silently behind them. From the track the sound of people moving could be heard, a very large group. Some had flame torches as they continued down the track getting close to Bryant’s group. He could see they all were well armed, with shields, maces’ and some with swords. He held his horse so it would not expose them and sword in the other hand.
‘Look like rebels sir’ Michaels whispered.
‘Quiet’ the Captain replied.
The large groups were now passing the trees where the imperial guard lay hid. They were definitely rebels he thought; they wore animal furs and had long beards with long matted hair. They were experts in these cold conditions, as they had lived in the mountainous woods for many years. They spoke no words, their only sounds were the odd cough and their boots scrunching on the gravel. As they passed and Bryant had to admit to himself they looked like a very functional group of warriors, something he would report back to the Elders.

Once the rebels had passed they could breathe a sigh of relief. Bryant slowly stepped back into the path and looked down to where the rebels had gone just seeing the flame torches bobbing down the path.
‘I wander where they are headed sir’
Bryant continued to look down the hill towards the soldiers.
‘Yes Michaels, they are a mystery. I have never been so close to them before. They could be headed anywhere on these hills as don’t forget, this is their land’
Goldric stepped from the trees as well and joined the two closely followed by Marsha.
‘What a scary bunch’ she said.
Bryant Chuckled ‘yes Marsha, they are’
‘Ok people; let’s get back onto the path for a little while longer than we can settle for the night’
Bryant looked into the sky and estimated the time by the stars.
‘Goldric you go ahead as usual and we will follow behind, be more alert everybody there could be more of them’
Marsha looked uncomfortable
‘I hope not Bryant’
‘Marsha… I hope not as well’



Folk night at The Templar’s inn was always lively, and tonight was no exception. People from all over the slums would pack into this small wooden building to dance, flirt and most importantly – to drink. A number of fights had broken out and the guards had removed around 4 patrons to the loud joy of all inside. The band played upbeat music whilst many patrons together to the beat of the drum, only pausing to drink large glugs of ale - most of it pouring over their clothes. Folk night was one of the only times these people had the chance to forget about slum life in an overindulgent haze of ale and music. In one corner amongst the chaos sat four men fixed in concentration as they held six cards each. Money sat piled high in the centre amongst jugs of ale. Only two men would take this money and Lorgan was intent on one of them being him. His friend and travel companion Hoyt sat next to him, his dark skin a novelty in the inn. They had travelled from slum inn to slum inn for some time hustling themselves some gold. Hoyt leaned towards Lorgan.
‘Lorgan, lets lay our cards, these ones are good’
From across the table the exceptionally large, and exceptionally unattractive ‘Flogger’ (as he was known) eyed them with suspicion, as his much smaller sidekick sat next to him necking his ale.
‘Alright let’s do it’
They leaned back into their chairs looking confidently into Flogger’s blood shot eyes.
‘OK Flogger, are you ready to lay?’
‘Ha! Lorgan, I aint lost in four years, and have never lost to a swine like you. Lay your cards and lets get this over with’
Lorgan said nothing, and him and Hoyt laid their cards on the table simultaneously. Flogger and his sidekick did the same. No-one said a thing as they all inspected each other’s cards. Flogger’s face turned from calm concentration to shock, realization of Lorgan’s victory swept over the Large unattractive man, his face reddened even more than normal.
‘ARRRGGHHHHH!!!!’
His huge hairy fists pounded the wooden table with fury, scattering the coins to the sticky floor.
‘Hey Hey, youre knocking my money in the air!’
Lorgan exclaimed with a large triumphant smile across his lips. He wrapped his arm around Hoyt and kissed him on the cheek
‘Steady there Lorgan, lets pick the money up first and get the hell out of here’
Flogger’s face was contorted in fury, as he grabbed his sidekick by the scruff of his neck flinging him to the floor.
‘Im da best player in the slums. How did you beat me Lorgan!?’
Lorgan casually picked his gold coins from the floor, and the table putting them into his inside pocket wrapping himself tightly in his dark cloak. His smug grin stayed on his face.
‘Ah Flogger, I’ve used my lucky cards. In fact Flogger, I think you’ve lost your touch ha-ha!’
At that Flogger swept his arm across the table knocking the jugs off the table ale splattered to the ground, some covering Flogger’s petrified sidekick as he tried to stand. Hoyt and Lorgan stepped back from the scene clearly in a hurry to depart. Flogger calmed and sat down in the struggling chair, his hands over his face.
‘Well Flogger, it was fun doing business with you. Common Hoyte lets spend our winnings’
‘The misses will gut me!’ Flogger said from under his hands.
The men turned to walk off into the rabble of the bar but as they did so Flogger’s floor bound sidekick started pointing furiously at the pair
‘Flogger! Flogger! ’
Lorgan turned, and realized in horror that some cards had fallen from his sleeves. He was normally so careful. Lorgan and Hoyt looked at one another. Hoyt pointed his finger at Lorgan, clearly not happy.
‘I bloody told you this would happen’
‘Hoyt, lets discuss this later, we need to get out of here’
Flogger stood with such force he knocked the chair over backwards
‘YOU CHEATING BASTARD’
Flogger cracked his knuckles, and stretched the muscles in his neck, the bones cracking under the force – a sign they were in big trouble.
‘Lorgan, I will make you regret you’re slut of a mother brought you into this world’
Flogger was a massive man, and was renowned in the slums for his right hook, which Lorgan was well aware of. Flogger kicked the table over and began to storm towards the pair, his arms raised ready to swing. Thinking quickly they began to flee. He and Hoyt attempted to barge through the crowds as quickly as possible. Flogger hot on their tales used his strength to barge the crowds out of the way. People fell to the ground, and a scene began to unfurl. He was gaining quickly on the cheaters; his face contorted with fury
‘LORGAN IM GOING TO TEAR YOURE PRETTY BOY LITTLE HEAD OFF, NOBODY CHEATS ME!’
The door was now only feet away, but people who stood everywhere tankards in their hands blocked Lorgan and Hoyt from escape. Lorgan knew a serious injury, or several was about to become very likely – he had to do something!

To Lorgan and Hoyt’s massive relief eight imperial guard burst into the Templar’s inn, struggling to get through the door swords raised. The musicians stopped playing, and the inn silenced.
‘What is going on in here?’ the sergeant of the group demanded.
Flogger calmed and turned to face the guardsmen who assembled at the door battle ready.
‘Nothing at all sir, why don’t you and you’re little buddies leave this inn. Our business is not yours’ followed by a toothless grin.
‘Do not tell me what to do; I am a sergeant of the guard. I will ask you one more time, what is going on here?’
Lorgan piped in
‘Hello Sergeant, good to see you this evening. My name is Lorgan and this is my associate Hoyt. I and this large gentleman were just having a friendly discussion about military tactics, and we were giving the inn a demonstration. Barmen pour these men some ale’
The men behind the sergeant looked up in glee. But their sergeant was having none of it.
‘It did not look like a friendly discussion as we were walking past’
He that started pointing his finger at the trio.
‘I am sick and tired of having to come to this dive to sort trouble out, and frankly I’m not interested in what you have to say’
One of the guards behind the leader of the pack grabbed ale and started drinking. The sergeant turned to his junior.
‘Put that Ale down now!’
He grudgingly put it back on the bar, pulling a comical face when the sergeant wasn’t looking.
‘And Flogger you’re always at the centre of the chaos aren’t you. Guards arrest this man’
Hoyt and Lorgan looked at one another and smiled, but there relief didn’t last.
‘Arrest these two as well. They can show their ‘military tactics’ to the jailors’.

The loneliness and despair was too much now. It had been days since her home collapsed on top of her creating this tomb. Darkness was all that endured in this place, darkness and the continuing fear of not knowing what the future held. There was no way she could push away the rubble. Liberty shifted uncomfortably on the pile of clothes that was her bed turning the page. She had read numerous books squinting in the small light that flickered from the depleting candles. It was all else to do down here – every moment she hoped that her brother would suddenly clear away the rubble and save her from the is gloom, but she knew that was just a false hope. He was dead, along with everyone in the town. She heard the screams, the explosions. The destruction that descended upon her home was obvious. She resigned herself to her fate.
‘Hello?’
She could have sworn…. No. It can’t be. Liberty had already accepted that she would die here; there was nothing any…….
Than it happened again, this time louder, closer. A surge of adrenaline coursed through her body. The hope returned and she jumped up as if to listen more intently ……. Silence – all she could hear was her excited heart.
‘Is anybody here?’
This time a woman’s voice. She wasn’t hearing things, this was real. People were close. Liberty immediately pounced towards where the sound seemed to come from
‘HELP ME, HELP ME, IM UNDER THE RUBBLE’
Than she stayed silent, waiting for a response. Again all she could here was her heart. Now a man’s voice
‘I think it’s deserted’
NO! She thought. She looked franticly around the room, something that would make a noise. Towards the corner was one of Lucious’s worn out shields, she grabbed it and then picked up a candle holder. She furiously banged them together and the noise vibrated around the stone walls of the basement.
Silence again….
‘Not good enough’
She dropped the candle holder. Desperation kicked in as she looked around in the dark for something. In the corner amongst the junk stood proudly above the rest a rusted sword. She could have sworn she hadn’t seen it before, Lucious’s old training sword. She ran to it, grabbed it and immediately bashed the steel sword down on the shield. The impressive noise shook the room and deafened liberty, but she beat harder. She put all her energy into this task and she battered the shield until indents in the steel were showing. The sound of steel on steel clanged its way around the room, surely it would penetrate. She banged and banged until her arms were numb, but she continued.

And then she heard a voice, and then another. They knew she was there! The sound of wood being lifted and thrown was heard. She stood in silence as the glorious sound of human communication was heard
‘Hurry up soldier, lift it, lift it!’
‘I’m trying as hard as I can’
She stood still. Then suddenly as if by magic she saw the sun through the slit in the trap door. The light blinded her and the pain was the best pain she had ever experienced. The light was so beautiful as her face was alit by the and the warmth touched her.
‘Please let this be real. Please let this be real’ she thought.
Than the last of the wood was taken away and the trap door flung open. 3 tired men and a women stood there and peered into the darkness squinting. Their eyes were not adjusted to the darkness.
‘Yes I’m here’ is all she said, and she stepped out of the gloom into the glorious sun. Her whole body was warmed and she breathed in the air and smelt the freshness of the outside world. The clear blue sky shone down on Liberty and she looked at Bryant and the others who stood quietly and smiled. Then she burst into tears and Bryant stepped forward and held her
‘Don’t worry, you’re safe now’
She continued to sob quietly, her head sunk pressing against the captain’s chest. He rubbed her hair trying to soothe her.
’you’re safe’ he repeated.

General Machiavel imposing frame strode down the thin lanes of the market area, his sword swaying and his long green cape bellowing behind him. The lane was virtually empty, and anyone walking along it took a different route when they saw who it was. He was the law in this city, and they knew it. The guards accompanying him struggled to keep up as he took large strides, the footsteps echoing of the walls of houses. It was dark and many people were indoors, the moon shone down illuminating the way. Reaching the stone building that was the jail house he banged the wooden door, shaking the entire frame.
‘Who’s there?’ a voice asked from inside
‘Its General Machiavel open this door now’
The door swung open instantly, the general wasted no time entering.
‘General Machiavel?! – It’s a err... Pleasure to see you’
It clearly wasn’t.
Two other guards in the small room, who sat lazily on chairs suddenly jumped out of their seats
‘Good Evening sir’
Small talk over, Machiavel got on with it.
‘Where is this merchant. The one who’s apparently gone mad?’
Two of the guards looked at each other, they never said a word.
‘Well young man, Where is he’
His deep voice rose, vibrating the water inside one of the guards tankards.
‘General, he’s in the cell at the end, but sir you can get no sense from him. He says someone has destroyed Atriop.’
The other guard chuckled, but stopped instantly when he saw the serious expression on the General’s face. Machiavel walked to the door that contained the cells.
‘Open that door’
The jailor hastily unlocked the door, and Machiavel strode in.
‘give me those keys, and you can all wait here’
Machiavel slammed the door behind him leaving the guards alone. As the door swung closed all five off the guards relaxed their sphincter muscles and began breathing normally again.

The jailhouse contained 8 cells, 4 on each side ran parallel to each other with a lane in between. At one end there was a room for the jailors, and the other end contained the only room with shackles – for difficult people. Machiavel walked on down the lanes towards the end cell, the only light was the flame torch he carried and the small amount of moonlight that shone through the small barred windows of the cells. The rest of the structure was made of solid dark bricks so escape virtually an impossibility. There was little activity in the cells and snoring could be heard from one. But Machiavel didn’t care; he was interested in one thing and as he approached a whispering could be heard.
‘All dead’
‘All dead, they’re all dead’
The raspy voice came from the end cell and was accompanied by sobbing. He reached the door peering through the gap but the darkness hid the outline of the man. Unlocking it he stepped in and shone the torch around struggling to see. The sound of chains resonated and Machiavel saw what he was looking for.

In the corner he lay shackled to the wall, His torn clothes were covered in dirt and dried blood that covered his bruised and battered frame. He looked a mess but Machiavel wasted no time and started demanding answers.
‘I’m the general of the guard. What exactly did you see at Atriop?’
Looking despondently at the general he suddenly started struggling, Machiavel stepped back.
‘LET ME OUT OF HERE, LET ME OUT YOU BASTARD’
Machiavel watched the pathetic site as saliva flew from the man’s mouth. He desperately tried to wriggle free of the metal chains. He relaxed and started crying again.
‘They’re all dead, he killed them all, my baby, he cut my baby in two’
The man then suddenly began laughing furiously.
‘HAHAHAHAHA HER LITTLE HEAD FLEW!!!!’
The general stepped closer once more.
‘Listen to me, what exactly did you see?’
The man looked passed the general aimlessly into space.
‘Those eyes, HAHA those yellow eyes’
He then rose his arms pointing them at the General.
‘BOOM BOOM BOOM HAHAHAHAHAAH’
The general had heard enough grabbing the sword from his belt. With a last look he swung down on the defenceless man. The squealing sounded even beyond the concrete walls as the General raised his arm once more and mercilessly swung for the last time. Eyes full of fear the man took one last struggling breath, and then silence.
‘You saw nothing’ Machiavel murmured.
And at that spat on the corpse he had created. The general casually wiped the blood of the sword on the man’s clothes and returned it to his sheath. He backed out of the room locking the door behind him, and with one last look though the gap in the door spoke:
‘And you won’t tell a soul, you piece of dirt’.
General Machiavel walked confidently back along the lanes and out back into jailors room slamming the door behind him.

In a cell to one side movement could be heard. The man stood back from the door and sat down on a bunk contemplating what he had seen: The general had murdered an innocent civilian. After a few minutes he stood and tip toed carefully in the low lighting to the bunk opposite shaking its inhabitant.
‘Wake up!’
The sleeping man murmured and opened his eyes looking up in confusion. The piercing blue eyes that reflected the moonlight looked down were clearly alarmed
‘Hoyt, I need to tell you what I’ve just witnessed’

ATRIOP FUKD
Smoke still billowed from some of the remains, and the fort was just a pile of bricks that were stacked at the centre of the destruction. The only structure remaining was parts of the walls, but it still had received a lot of damage. The town was a state and Bryant and Liberty sat alone together atop some wooden rubble that had been a home.
‘Liberty, what has happened here?’
She looked around the town, clearly still upset
‘Where are all the people? No bodies, anything’ is all she said
Bryant followed her gaze
‘We know nothing as to what has happened’ Bryant continued ‘I was sent by my superiors to check on this town after some reports’
He sighed
‘But beyond that, we are clueless. I’m sorry. But when I return to the City I’m sure something will be done. Do you think the rebels would do this Liberty?’
She put her head in her hands
‘Captain I don’t know a thing, I heard a massive explosion and looked out to see the Fortress had been destroyed. My brother…..’
She trailed off, and tears begin to appear in her eyes
‘…my brother came running and put me in the basement. Down there I heard horrific things. People screaming and the sounds of explosions. Who could have done this? You’re a captain; tell me why would someone do this?’
Bryant looked on her with caring eyes
‘We honestly don’t know, there are no bodies. It seems the people have vanished. But as soon as I report back the Elders will act. Atriop is an important town for us as it sits at the border’
Liberty was distraught now
‘So important that we were left without protection. My little brother had only just been given his sword and he was supposed to protect a town to himself!’
She cried again, and Bryant put his arm on her back
‘I’m very sorry about all of this, when you’re ready to talk you can speak to me at any time’
Bryant stood to leave and joined the rest of the group who sat down regaining strength some meters away
‘What has happened here than?’ Marsha asked looking around at the devastation
‘I was supposed to be healing people, but there is nobody here’
Michaels chipped in
‘Captain this is too weird, where the hell is everyone. No bodies, nothing’
‘Look everybody I know this is odd, but we have to keep level heads. We need to report back to the Elders straight away. Goldric, I want you to go immediately back to the Imperial city and alert the Elders. Tell them what you have seen and myself, Michaels and Marsha will follow behind with Liberty’
Goldric, who stayed quiet as usual quickly jumped onto a horse and immediately departed for the gate. He efficiently galloped out past the town border onto the green valley beyond.
‘Alright Michaels and Marsha lets gear up, we need to bring our only witness back to the Imperial City.’ The group looked towards Liberty who continued to cry.

On the Eastern road Bryant and the rest had wasted no time venturing down the mountain path back to the flats green fields. The fear of the rebels had been superseded by a new fear. What had happened to the people of Atriop? Liberty held tightly to the captain as the powerful imperial horses galloped over the uneven path. They had camped in the forest as before and quickly departed early on. They sky remained clear allowing good sight ahead in the lights and a clear night sky. Michaels had now taken the role of scout and kept slightly ahead of the rest so he could return if he came across visitors. Bryant was aware that in all probability he would meet Imperial soldiers on the way sent by the Elders, perhaps some of the Elders themselves to access the situation. But until he met them he stayed focused. The devastation was etched on his mind. So many answers were needed, and Liberty had none. The young woman stayed silent sitting behind him for most of the journey, but somehow he knew there was still a part to play for the young girl in all of this. Instinct told him, and his instinct was rarely wrong.

‘Captain’
It was Michaels, he was calling from ahead.
‘Captain come now’
They had reached the fields and were over one days ride from home. Michaels was standing over a large pond ahead, hand over his mouth peering into the water. Bryant stopped his horse and Marsha followed suit.
‘Stay here please ill takes a look’ and he climbed the horse and jogged to his Sergeant. Bryant approached the pond that lay to the side of the path. As he approached he saw what Michaels was alerted to, his heart sank. The normally clear pond was a crimson red colour, at the centre lay a dead horse whose head was severed. Next to the horse amongst the reeds a dead man floated upside down, and he had the uniform of an imperial soldier, a familiar Imperial Soldier.
‘It’s Goldric’ Bryant stated, sadness in his voice.
He stayed silent for one more second than shouted to Marsha to come.
‘Captain, what can she do now? He’s dead! Look at him sir!’ Michaels distraught voice was obvious.
Bryant knew it was hopeless but wanted to do something for the man that served him. As she approached the shock was obvious on her face. She stood zombified looking upon the site.
‘We need to get him out guys. He must be buried’ Marsha said
‘We will bury him here so he can return to the mountains, like he deserves’

Bryant, liberty, Marsha and Michaels stood soberly over the body of Goldric that now lay peacefully on the grass. The wound to his neck was clearly visible, and had been administered with surgical precision. Marsha had used her powers to try a revival, but they all knew it was hopeless. Once she had drained her energy trying, they had accepted the worst. Goldric was dead and had clearly been murdered.
‘Marsha, when you tried the revival did you get a glimpse into his memory, did you see the murder?’
She shook here head side to side and huffed
‘As you’re aware my memory reading is limited, but I am certain Goldric himself didn’t know what happened. I did sense that there was no pain, and he hasn’t undergone any struggles or strains. My guess would be he stopped to take water and was attacked silently’
Michaels chipped in ‘Whoever did this knew what they were doing, this is a professional job’
Liberty quietly knelt closer to the body of Goldric and placed her hand on his forehead closing her eyes.
‘Liberty?’
Bryant hushed Michaels and watched.
‘Marsha you are right’
Her eyes remained closed, continuing to lay her hand on the soldier’s cool head.
‘He crouched down to fill his canteen, and than….. Than he felt warm hands grab him.’
She was confused.
‘the hands were delicate, yet they were so strong!’
Everyone was astounded by what Liberty was doing. She was no healer, and should not have the ability to do memory reads.
‘He did see the attacker, he turned quickly and…’
She suddenly became distressed and fell back releasing her contact with Goldric’s head. Bryant tried to comfort her but she broke free of the captain and ran away from the group towards some trees.
‘Marsha, Captain, what in Acrusia is happening?’
Marsha looked on the girl as she disappeared in some trees and an understanding came over her. The two men were clueless as to what was occurring.
‘I believe she just experienced her first ‘murder memory’ ill go and see if she is ok’

Bryant and the others set up camp away from the Eastern road for the last time before they would reach the city. Dense bushes and trees surrounded them and the stars were only visible at intervals where the leaves from the trees parted. Mist had settled in the woodland, reducing visibility. Which was an advantage, as well as a drawback. Calm breeze swayed the trees and the sound of the wind through the thousands of leaves could be heard. Marsha, Liberty and Michaels lay silently sleeping nearby. Bryant now had new worries to think about and he pondered them staring into the flames of the dying fire. He played with a small stick poking it into the fire shifting his weight on the log he sat on. What had happened to Atriop? What had happened to Goldric? What is the significance of Liberty? So many questions needed answering, and he knew sleeping would be difficult. He was wrapped comfortably under his large green jacket and for some reason he always felt safer under his cloak; today he needed the comfort. The corpse of Goldric played on his mind as the image of the floating body echoed vividly in his memory. His death was a mystery, and somehow even though the rebels seemed the likeliest culprits he knew they weren’t responsible. They were not bloodthirsty assassins; this was surgical, so brutally surgical and precise. Goldric was killed for a reason and the captain wanted to know why. His thoughts were interrupted as from metres away Liberty shifted under the blanket and sat up looking at the captain.
‘Cant sleep captain?’ she said with a smile, her messy blond her disguised her features in the dying light of the fire. Bryant returned the smile
‘It’s glad to see you’re ok again Liberty, you gave me a fright, I had no idea you had the powers of a healer’
‘I don’t really, I can’t heal people, I just can see things that’s all’
She stood and joined the Captain on the log bringing her blanket.
‘See things?’
Wrapping herself in the blanket she warmed her hands on the fire.
‘Yes Captain, when I touch people I can sometimes see what they are thinking, what emotions they are having, or what is worrying them. I realised it when my mother died. When I found her, I touched her and I saw what she saw for her last moments’
She too peered into the fire remembering something painful, its orange and yellow flame danced around causing shadows amongst the thick trees.
‘And when I touched Goldric, my mother’s death came back to me so clearly. It was terrible; I felt her being killed again. The pain of it was unbearable, and that’s why I ran away like that – and I apologise’
Bryant looked to Liberty this time
‘You’re mother was killed?’
‘Yes she was murdered many years ago when she returned home from work. A hooded man was in our town. They say he was a thief but he left my mothers money, I was too young to understand, and probably still am’
‘I’m sorry Liberty that this has happened. In fact I’m sorry about all of this’
She looked at the captain also, and smiled
‘Captain….’
‘Call me Bryant, only my soldiers need to address me as captain’
She corrected ‘Bryant, there’s no need to apologise, you and you’re friends saved my life and for that I am indebted to you. But Captain… sorry I mean Bryant. The thing that reminded Goldric’s murder of my mothers was not the murder it self…’ she paused
‘It’s the person that did it. He had a sign on the palm of his hand; they both had the same sign that I glimpsed briefly as I saw the hands cover their faces. The person who murdered my mother and the person who murdered you’re soldier friend’
The confusion on Bryant was obvious.
‘Ill show you’
She took a piece of loose bark from the ground and borrowed the burnt stick from Bryant. She began to draw and a shape began to form, the sweeping curves, and small details. Bryant just watched the drawing take shape and it began to become familiar. Fear came over him as the realization of what she sketched became. First she drew out an eye, than to the left a downwards pointing blade. To the right she drew a crescent moon. Bryant’s eyes widened and he stood from the log stepping back away from Liberty. ‘The all seeing eye’ he whispered to himself. Seeing his reaction she became uncomfortable.
‘What is it Bryant, what is this drawing?’
‘Liberty, that is the insignia of the dark blades. They are secret Imperial assassins’
‘Only high ranking people in Imperial government know who they are. They do the jobs of the elders that they would rather no one knows about. Are you certain this was on the hand of the man who killed Goldric?’
She nodded.
‘This means only one thing’
He sat down trying to control his breathing. The silence of the forest seemed louder than before, he became more alert of his surroundings. Coldness seemed to grab him.
‘You’re mother and Goldric were murdered under order from an Elder, they are the only ones who control the dark blades’
She was unsure as to how to take this information.
‘It also means that we could be in danger.’
‘LOOK OUT!’ Liberty shouted and she grabbed the captain diving to the ground. At that instead a loud whoosh broke the silence as an arrow slammed into the tree behind where the Captain had sat. On all fours the captain scrambled to the low fire beating it out with his hands.

‘Michaels wake up’
The sergeant awoke, throwing the blanket off of him, grabbing his sword from the forest floor. He stood and joined the captain on all fours, still fighting off sleep.
‘Where did it come from Captain?’
He stayed silent and surveyed the trees looking for any movement.
‘There!’ he said jumping up from the ground towards the trees with Michaels following suit. They left the small clearing, and entered into the dense woodland. Michaels and Bryant now stopped again; their senses went into overdrive as they looked for signs of movement. A branch cracked metres away, and the two soldiers quickly pounced to the site of the sound. Again, nothing. Bryant stealthily pranced forwards his long sword firmly held between his hands, he looked left and right for anything. Michaels followed feet behind as they advanced. The stars were the only thing lighting the way.
‘Halt’ he whispered to Michaels, and again they stood silently allowing their senses to focus on the surroundings, the only sound was the wind in the leaves. They looked around in the dark, again a sound of foot steps came from metres away, and the soldiers dashed forward to the sound. This time they caught a glimpse of a figure who just evaded their sight into the thick undergrowth. Michaels pointed towards where the figure came from ands again the soldiers advanced quickly and quietly their movement hampered by the thick bushes and trees. Bryant saw the figure again just going out of sight ahead of them and he followed silently. He directed Michaels to go to the left while he covered the right, advancing in unison. If they could flank their opponent they may have an opportunity to catch them.


Seperated the Captain and Seargeant continued thought the trees slowly. The silenece was shattered as the cloaked figure jumped out suddenly from behind a tree hitting the Captain with a iron short sword. Bryant raised his own blade in defence and they clanged against each other. Bryant managed to use his strength to push the cloaked figure back away. The sword rose once again, but again the Captain blocked the blow, this time returning with a sideways chop of his sword. The figure just managed to step back missing the blade by inches, returning again with a strike which the captain skilfully dodged. Bryant reeling from the dodge was hit in the head with the hilt of the sword momentarily dazing him. The cloaked figure rose the sword to the sky and was about to swing when Michaels dived from out of a nearby bush stabbing the cloaked enigma in the lower abdomen. A scream of pain resonated through the forest. He removed his and used the hilt to strike the figure twice in the jaw. The injured assassin fell down in agony, and the Captain managed to regain composure putting the edge of his sword to the figure’s neck that clutched their side.
‘Do not move!’ the Captain demanded as his anger slowly subsided. He wiped away blood from his mouth whilst his other hand held the sword against the neck. Michael’s quickly took the fallen sword throwing it into the dense trees.
‘Take down your hood’ the Captain demanded. The cloaked figure ignored the order, until the captain pressed the sword harder on their neck.
‘I said take down you’re hood – I will not ask you again’
It complied, and the figure lowered its hood revealing a young woman’s bruised face. Her expression was motionless and she looked at the Captain casually. Her long black hair was blown revealing dark eyes contrasting her pale skin. Bryant’s surprise that she was a woman was obvious. His momentary lapse of judgement was costly as the assassin jumped backwards suddenly performing an acrobatic somersault that kicked the sword out of Bryant’s hand. She spun effortless in the air backwards and as she descended she hit the shocked Michaels in the head hard with her boot. The two reeling soldiers watched as she darted back though the trees, still holding her side. Michaels was passing in and out of consciousness as he stumbled, falling again. Captain Bryant gave chase through the thick undergrowth. His metallic armour meant perusing at speed was difficult; especially as she dressed in a thin cloak. Legs tiring he sprinted hard on the forest floor chasing the elusive foe, but she was too fast. His age was showing and as he ran on more, the trees began to thin out revealing a large body of water. His local geography was not excellent, but he knew it was Lake Harad. As he reached the shoreline he could see a tiny craft floating effortlessly away from him. It was hopeless and crouched down regaining his breath. Just behind him Michaels furiously blundered out of the trees and ran partly into the water nursing his battered head.
‘WHERE IS THAT FELCHER? IM GOING TO KILL HER’
A familiar whooshing noise was heard.
‘Careful!’ Bryant exclaimed, but it was too late.
‘ARGH!!! OW OW OW, WHAT THE……. ARGHHH MY LEG!’
Bryant wisely took cover with Michaels hopping behind him, now nursing two parts of his body an arrow protruding from his upper leg. Bryant carefully looked out over the water and he could just see the little craft bobbing away disappearing into the mist. She had eluded them.
Bryant started uncontrollably laughing to Michael’s severe displeasure and puzzlement.
‘What do you find so bloody funny?!’
‘Oh Michaels. When death smiles you in the face, the only thing you can do is smile back’
The Captain stood tall now, stretching his tired frame.
‘Ok Michaels lets go’ He walked to the sergeant and helped support the injured man.

Once Marsha had seen to the sergeant’s leg with herbs from her medical satchel, Bryant decided to depart immediately. There was no saying whether the assassin would attack again, so getting back to the city was vital. Once packed, they mounted the three horses and quickly found the main road again. From here it would take around four hours of continuous travelling, and the Captain insisted that they were not to stop. Michael’s struggled with the pain, but he knew the importance of getting back. This mission had become extremely dangerous as it progressed and he did not want another encounter with the she assassin, something he kept to himself. The stars shone down illuminating the road ahead, and as the hours passed the pleasant sight of the city slowly emerged from over the horizon and meant one thing for Captain Bryant – and that was home. He had lost one of his soldiers but had saved the young girl. What had happened to Atriop was a mystery that created more mysteries. And as he passed over the final bridge to the main gate, the day sun ascended over the Arcrusian Mountains behind him. He looked back at the marvel he had always enjoyed and smiled. He had the will of a warrior, and even though the mission to Atriop was full of peril and heartache he had not been broken; he had survived to fight another day.

The real question now was, would he survive the battles that were to follow? Only Time had the answer.

The air was cold, and the night was still. The imperial guard patrolled the walls as usual watching for any threat posed by the thick pine woodlands that surrounded Ibilis. The large imposing stone walls surrounded the small market town’s buildings keeping all within its stone ring safe. At the main gate it was business as usual as some travellers came and went about there business. The sound of a hand banging on the wooden door connected to the main gate was heard. As usual Dug the middle aged Imperial watchman left his small wooden guard house and responded. He held his torch up opening a small slat in the door.
‘Name please?’
He asked, looking out into the woods beyond. A tall cloaked man stood confidently on the other side
‘Its Gitera, let me in’ was the response in a dry demanding tone, his breath condensing in the cold
‘Are we expecting you? I have the list of after hour’s travellers here’ and tapped the piece of paper he held
‘I don’t see a… Gitera here’.
The cloaked man became impatient.
‘I am not on your pathetic list. I said let me in now you fat ugly man’
Dug was used to rudeness and carried on in his usual manner.
‘Now there’s no need for that tone, you know the rules. You cannot travel between towns without a permit. If you want to avoid the shackles tonight I would suggest you go back to where you…’
He stopped short. The darkness under the cloak suddenly lit up revealing a bright pair of eyes the colour of lightning. The cloaked man raised his hands and stepped back from the door. Dug gulped in fear as a blast of heat and light exploded into the large wooden gate causing it to crumple inwards. Dug’s helpless frame flew backwards from the impact landing metres away with a crunch followed by the cloaked man who strode confidently into the town. As Dug lay powerless under the same door the same door that kept him safe his whole career closing his eyes for the last time, he knew he was not the only one who would die tonight; the rumours were true .

Liberty was aware she was floating, she was floating high in the heavens and she looked around. She could see yet it was not the same as using her eyes. This sight was somehow different, the nature of it she could not begin to wander. The ground was miles below her and she could see a sea of lights that bobbed and flowed for miles away until they were lost over the horizon. She was not in her body; instead she was just an entity that floated amongst all these others. She looked at the lights and smiled at them. She could feel the warmth and energy from every single individual light and she knew she was connected to them bathing in their aura. Each light possessed an entity, an individual. These lights interacted with each other, sometimes new lights would appear in the sea, and sometimes lights would fizzle away into the sky above her to disappear for ever. They all were unique, yet they were all the same. All connected to each other and all to Liberty. She could watch over them for an eternity, and without them she was nothing, and without Liberty they were nothing. They needed each other.

Each one told a different storey, some of pain, some of courage, some of happiness, love but most of all they all held something in common; they all contained a energy that each had for themselves, a life force that was essential for them all to coexist together. They all needed each other, even though most were oblivious. Liberty thought they were beautiful and wanted to know the storey of every single one, which in a way she did.

Far away into the distance she felt something, a disturbance that scared her. She focused her will onto it and than she was hit with a pain. It was not physical or mental, not real yet more genuine than anything else she had experienced. As she looked some of the lights disappeared. She cried out for them but they flew off into darkness away from her, and as every single one did she felt amazing suffering. She tried to chase them, to save them, like a mother for her child but as she chased a new dark entity was felt in this world overpowering her. She felt the raw hate for existence, and as it extinguished each individual entity it sucked the life force from within increasing its own supremacy. She pleaded with it to stop, but it sneered at her. It enjoyed harming Liberty and the life that surrounded her. Than suddenly, as fast as it had begun the dark entity ceased to take life and disappeared away over the horizon. Liberty felt a relief like no other, but the damage was irreversible. It had sucked some of her being away; and she knew it would return for more. It would not be satisfied until this place was devoid of any life force, and was plunged into a darkness that would remain for an eternity.

Opening her eyes widely she creamed out in pain that reverberated around the dark room thrashing her arms. She knocked an extinguished candle and beaker of water to the hard stone floor. Her whole body ached and she was soaked in perspiration that glistened on her skin. A moment later the door was swung open and a familiar frame rushed in holding a torch. She knelt down and held the young woman
‘shhh shhh shhh, its ok. I’m here now’ Marsha declared.
He rocked the crying girl and stroked her glistening hair.
‘Its ok, it’s just a bad dream’
Marsha looked upon Liberty and the moon from the window showed the pain contained on her face.
‘He has done it again’
She said with great effort.
‘Who?’
The healer replied this time holding Liberty away from looking her plainly in the face, her face screwed up in confusion.
‘He has taken life again’
She sobbed, her distress obvious
‘He wants to kill everything’



PART 2 – The City
In the centre of the Imperial city atop a hilly embankment sat the Premier’s palace. It was surrounded by large walls and was guarded night and day by the best Guards that the Imperial’s could train. It was a circular white building with a large thin white tower in the centre that stood proudly above the city where the Premier could observe his domain from the balcony and ponder issues of politics. Many meeting would be held in the high balcony room with officials and elders to discuss issues affecting the governance of the people of this Empire. But his illness had meant he was rendered useless, and as he sipped the warm cocktail of herbs the healers had gave him he shifted uncomfortably in his bed. How he wished he could go to his tower, his place of sanctity. But right now he could not even stand, and the best healers in the city feared the worst. Premier Davros was dying, and he knew it. His daughter entered the chamber and crouched by his bedside kissing his hand. She looked upon him with pity and sadness in her eyes, she knew the pain he was suffering. She nodded to the healer who watched over him. ‘Father, I don’t want to aggravate your illness any more, but I promised you I would tell you everything that is happening in your realm’ She paused as his father slowly opened his eyes looking on the face of his child. ‘Father there are rumours from the East that two towns have been attacked and many people have died’ his tired eyes looked upon his daughter and the pain was obvious. He rubbed his daughter’s face and spoke slowly ‘please, tell me everything’ followed by a vicious cough that echoed in the room. ‘Machiavel is downplaying it all, but now more and more travellers have arrived with the news. I think the General maybe trying to stop a panic, but too many people are talking. The people are getting suspicious and…….. they miss you father’ composure lost, a tear was visible in her eye ‘The people really miss you, they come to me in the street with wishes of good luck. I’m so glad you have cared for your people in the way you do, and I don’t know what we will do if….’ She couldn’t stop this time and her head lowered to her hands. The Premier tried to sit up and his face grimaced with the pain. He stroked her hair, speaking slowly ‘Daughter, do not worry, the Elders have the people’s best interests at heart. They will vote for a good replacement, there are many good people to choose from’ he coughed again violently, and a healer stepped forward wiping his mouth with a warm cloth. ‘I hope so father, I really hope so.’

Once Laticia left her father she went to go and see Davros, a Imperial Elder and family friend to discuss the rumours. The Premier’s palace was close to the chamber of the Elders and she walked across the Impeiral gardens towards the large domed building. She had always enjoyed this walk; the flowers here were well tended by healers. They also grew herbs here for the use in medicinal uses. Once she entered the building she walked around the circular corridor which surrounded the chamber and found his room. Knocking on the door he ushered her inside pulling a chair for her. She thanked him and sat down politely refusing tea.
‘I am glad to see you are well Laticia, how is the Premier?’ Speaking frankly, she answered ‘He is not well, I will not lie to you anymore – it is almost certain he will die, so we have to discuss his replacement’. The news troubled the graying man. He stroked his long beard and thought for a moment ‘I thought this may be the case, but as you know the Elder’s attention is on this news of attacks. One of our captains has returned and reported to us immediately. Infact it is best I stop now, as the General is to brief us in a few minutes in the main chambers. Shall we go?’

The main chamber filled quickly with many Imperial elders. Davros walked in clutching his stick in one hand and his arm hooked with the young Leticia. He sat down in his usual spot and they waited as the activity died down and everyone took their places. Turnout was high today as the news of attacks was on everyone’s mind. The general than entered striding confidently. He wore full military armour. It was cleanly polished and the gold and emerald green patterns was an attractive suit contrasting to the dull grey robes of the elders. He looked like a man of power – something not lost on Davros. Behind him a young women followed. She had long flowing black hair and a robe as black as the night. She seemed to struggle, and occasionally held her side. She sat down next to the general.
‘Who’s the girl?’ Leticia whispered to Davros. ‘I have never seen her before today; I don’t like the look of her to be honest’ The general stood to the podium with some papers in his hand. He looked across the hall at the elders and begun to speak.
‘You have all heard the rumours of the attacks on our towns I’m sure. You are all probably wandering whether they are true or not’ he paused and many people looked to each other anticipating confirmation or denial.
‘As the general of the Imperial guard, I am responsible for defence related issues such as these, and I can confirm here today in front of you all – The Empire is under attack!’
There was some commotion in the ranks of benches as people absorbed what Machiavel told them.
‘silence please’ the Elder chairman announced, trying to regain the silence. Machiavekl continued.
‘As you may or may not know Atriop was attacked and many, if not all of its inhabitants have been murdered. Also Ibilis has suffered the same fate’
Peoples faces were that of shock. This meant many citizens were murdered
‘Now I am also aware that you expected me to come here to give you all an update, which I have. But I am here with other news’
Davros and Leticia exchanged worried looks. If this were true than many hundreds of people were dead.
‘These attacks on two of our towns means I can officially grant a ‘Crisis’ status to the empire, which I have done. Being in Crisis status means that the Premier may impose martial law, and all power is held with himself and the military. As you are obviously aware, the premier is incapacitated at this current time, so as General of the Imperial guard I hereby take control of all decision making in the empire’
The room exploaded with noise as Elders from all sides protested their outrage to this. Davros and Liberty stayred silent and watched the scene dumfounded. Again the Chairman had to try to regain calm, but struggled to be heard over the noise
‘SILENCE ELDERS’ he demanded ‘SILENCE’
Again the noise died down but murmuring was heard from all corners. Machiavel looked around the room studying the faces, and spoke again
‘That is all’ and confidently rose from the podium and exted the room closely followed th


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