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One Who Masters Magic (End of First Draft)


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Glad that you caught up, Gimpy. I understand being busy and all, but I really do miss your edits.


Like Ami, I also thought that Bronwyn was the Guide mentioned in the prophecy - the fact that she is a seer, mostly undiscovered, and as the King's cabinet noted the remaining people of that country (sorry, not going to bother to search through 4 chapters of posts to find it at this point) ended up in the Kuti region. Clearly you've stated she's not, so I guess we'll have to wait to see who that new characters ends up being - someone she and Syler meet in their travels, most likely.

I might have to go back and clarify this a little better. I tried to bring forth the prophecy without spelling everything out too much (as I think any good prophecy needs to be heavily allegorical and vague), but maybe I was a little too vague. The Guide is not meant to be a seer or someone who sees the future. That was never the Guide's purpose. Read the part of the prophecy that covers the Guide again:


Blessings be upon you, people of Subeleth,

For you are strong and glorious.

Long have you guarded the secrets all have sought,

Your reward shall soon be made evident.


For from the daughters of Subeleth shall the Guide be found.

And she shall lead the One on his path.

For without her, the One shall stray,

And all hope for the children of Teladia shall vanish.

Subeleth refers to the Krue (who live in the Subeleth Woods. They are being praised for "guarding the secrets." Those would be the secrets of what exactly the Master of Magic can do, how to definitively identify him (as opposed to an impostor), what his destiny could be (nothing is certain, remember), and how to test him and help him learn his abilities.. Further, the Guide shall be found from "the daughters of Subeleth." Bronwyn is a Kuti, not a Krue, so that alone would disqualify her. The Guide will be the plot device that serves as sort of the old master who knows what is going on (except she won't be old). She is the Obi-Wan (A New Hope version) or the Gandalf of the story in that she is aware of Syler's destiny and (some of) his powers. She hasn't been introduced yet.


the fact that she is a seer, mostly undiscovered, and as the King's cabinet noted the remaining people of that country ended up in the Kuti region.

That was indeed referring to the single line of prophecy Va knew and it does refer to Bronwyn. However, if you read the area, it is clear (at least, I hope it is clear) that they are referring to finding the Master of Magic, not finding the Guide. They intentionally gave up on finding the Guide as they aren't yet in position to deal with the Krue. Right now, they are focused on finding the One and Bronwyn is capable of fingering him. She has enough of the pieces, she just doesn't know what they mean. Were someone who knows prophecy to know what she knows, they would know who Syler was.



It's also interesting to see how Havert is almost quietly seditious and yet has fully adopted his wife and child.

Havert stated already that though he now believes in the Way, he doesn't believe the Way indicates that it can only be interpreted by the Angvardi and Terulans. He was willing to accept their marriage as it was performed through the priests of the Way, but he doesn't have to accept that the Easterners are the only ones who are supposed to be in charge. He believes (and I will go into it more in a short bit) that it is entirely possible for the Sei and the Kuti to remain independent and still be part of the Way and contribute towards the ultimate survival of everyone against the Coming Darkness.


That, and let's be honest here: if you were paired up with an attractive and polite (Havert is very polite and gentle) man and said "you are now married, have children or you will be enslaved" what would you do?


These chapters have really been strong in writing style, level of detail, etc.

Thank you. There are parts I am not always sure of, but I hope to iron them out in my second draft.


Wouldn't seeing Setpinius' attack be more of a vision of the future than a prophecy, on the part of Xalent? From how I understood the description of prophet vs seer, this is not something Xalent should see, unless the distinction between prophecy and future is much less distinct than I realized.

Very true, very true indeed. You clearly were paying attention. All I can say is that prophets and seers like to seem like they know more than they do (think of palm readers and psychics today).


Regarding the Escargro, if the name is truly that much of a hangup for you, I may just change it. Yes, it was intentionally meant to refer to the snail like structure of the tower, but it wasn't meant to be humorous.


I thought your dialogue has overall been much stronger in these chapters. There are two areas I would encourage looking at, however:


I thought the Bronwyn/Syler scenes have been good, detailed, and the actual dialogue itself was excellent. However, you usually used the same descriptions repeatedly, and used them only to describe the voice tone (cold, more anger, in anger, edge of anger, etc) rather than showing us.

I am glad you pointed that out. As I have said, dialogue is not my strong point, and that includes descriptors around the speaking parts. I am going to go back through some of the more dialogue heavy parts and see about fixing that up.


My last suggestion - Lamastus and Syler's conversation about the stable braces seemed really stilted.

I shall go back and see what I can do, right after I finish fixing some of the above.


Wow - sounds like there are some crazy things about to happen! I liked the way you introduced the Shalktra. It does not sound good at all to have so many there - searching for the Guide, perhaps?

Not the Guide, but the seer whom they believe (correctly) could identify who the Master of Magic is. And yes, I do indeed like the Shalktra, both their name and what they are going to do in the rest of the novel. Bad guys can be so fun to write sometimes.

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Good two updates. I noticed a few things grammatically here and there (mostly commas versus periods), but nothing big.


I feel like the beginning of 8b was a little choppy, and it felt like you were trying to explain where you didn't really need to. I mean, it's important for Bronwyn to think through the consequences of deciding to go with Syler, but if I might make a suggestion...maybe instead of her agreement to go with him being a panicked response, she realizes in this section the reasons why she said what she did. Like her immediate agreement to go catches her off-guard and she has to think through why she immediately trusted him enough to leave with him.


I don't know. I can't put my finger on it...maybe you should just take a look through it. Sorry I'm not being that specific. There's just something that felt weird about that.


Don't know what to say about the Shalktra yet...but I'm sure looking forward to seeing them more. I wonder why they inspire such fear even from the Angvardi.


Good ending to the chapter too. Peace restored in their household, and their relationship stronger because of it.


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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I mean, it's important for Bronwyn to think through the consequences of deciding to go with Syler, but if I might make a suggestion...maybe instead of her agreement to go with him being a panicked response, she realizes in this section the reasons why she said what she did. Like her immediate agreement to go catches her off-guard and she has to think through why she immediately trusted him enough to leave with him.

I will let it sit for a few more days (it is pretty fresh on my mind) so I can get some distance and perspective, then revisit it.


Don't know what to say about the Shalktra yet

I have never been one to have everyone in a particular group or race as being all good or all bad (case and point: Lamastus), but I can say with certainty that there are going to be absolutely no good Shalktra. They are pure "bad guys" and will never change, at least not in this book.



I am so excited (and a little nervous) about the next chapter, so I will put it up even though Brendo hasn't read the last part. I won't overwhelm everyone with the whole chapter, but will post the first part. This is where we finally start getting to see some of what Syler can do. Plus, I get to introduce a particularly fun character in Growald, and we get to visit more of Havert. All good stuff. I am quite pleased with this part, hopefully it works well. Make sure to read the chapter intro quote.





Chapter 10


Beware his righteous wrath, for once it is summoned, it cannot be undone except through the destruction of his foes. The Master of Magic masters not just the arcane, but also the powers of the physical world.


”” unknown prophet, 92 of the Second Age


Village of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


Syler woke to see Bronwyn's face looking up at him with her green eyes. It startled him a bit so he jerked in surprise. His reaction elicited a smile from the Kuti woman. "Good morning, my husband."


The way she said that made his sleep addled mind wonder what exactly happened over the night. He blinked a few times and realized with relief that she still wore her nightgown and he still had his pants on. A few seconds after that and he remembered what happened the night before with the fight and them making up.


"Ow," he moaned and gently moved to where Bronwyn's elbow was no longer jabbing into his side. He realized that it was far brighter outside than it should be and asked, "What time is it?"


"It is two hours past dawn," she replied with another smile. Her eyes were sparkling in the sunlight and she looked positively radiant. "I would have gotten up, but I didn't want to wake you and you looked like you needed the sleep."


It was not a good way to start the day, not after getting behind yesterday. "I need to get to the forge." He extracted himself from Bronwyn, got out of bed, threw his shirt on, and started for the forge. If he didn't get the next three orders in, he would bring unwanted attention from the Angvardi workers who were needing them. If they grew angry enough to complain, it might bring a guard or two down and even if it didn't, it would get a negative notice of them floating around the officials.


He had already gotten the forge heated up and the metal in the fire when Bronwyn came out with a quick breakfast of eggs. "I even paid for them," she said anticipating his question. "Poor Fwella looked at me like I was crazy when I gave her money for a dozen eggs."


Syler wasn't going to say anything about payment, but he was pleased that she was willing to pay at least for a few things. She stayed with him in the forge helping out wherever possible so they could make up lost time. It was nice having her around even if giving her the instructions on what to do took almost as much time as she saved him by doing it.


Syler managed to finish the projects, but by the time the last one was completed, they were running late for Havert's feast. Bronwyn wouldn't allow them to go to such an event as they were and insisted on both taking a quick bath and changing into fresh clothes. Syler cleaned up the forge while Bronwyn was taking her bath. When she was finished, he took his while she got dressed in something special.


Syler's jaw dropped when he emerged from the small washroom because Bronwyn was in a fine dress that he had never seen before. She wore a finely tailored dark green dress made of wool and a white embroidered chemise beneath. Syler had never seen her wearing anything but her plain shirt and skirt, or perhaps a plain light brown work dress so he couldn't help but stare. Her cheeks turned light pink when she noticed his attention, but she shooed him away urging him to get ready himself.


Mumbling that he had nothing to compare to her simple yet elegant attire, Syler led the two of them out onto the streets in the direction of Havert's in-law's house at a rapid pace. They were late, but that didn't seem to dim Havert's exuberance at seeing them.


Once they arrived, they were greeted by an exuberant Havert and led into the packed dining area. Alltis' parents must have had some wealth or influence because their house was three times the size of the one that Bronwyn had and was able to have a separate dining room. Right now, that room was full with feasting revelers celebrating and feasting. Syler noted with some bemusement that the group was almost evenly split between Kuti with their fair skin and lighter hair and the generally darker skinned and dark haired Sei. Admittedly, most of the Kuti were women as the majority of the Kuti men had either been killed or exiled, but there were two older men that he hadn't seen before. He did recognize a few of the Sei, namely Growald, one of Havert's new friends.


They had a good time eating and having light conversation. Alltis was from a different Kuti clan than Bronwyn, so they didn't know about her gift. Because of that, she was able to enjoy the rare treat of being treated like a normal person. Throughout the evening, Syler looked over at her and was glad to see that she was having a good time. He didn't think he had ever seen her laugh as much as she was now.


As the evening wore on, the conversation began to take a turn toward more serious subjects. If there was one thing that both the Kuti and the Sei had in common, it was the fact that they were both an occupied people. Syler kept trying to find a way to gracefully exit before he was targeted, but it was not to happen.


"What about you, Syler?" Growald asked. "I haven't seen you around much. You aren't in league with the Easterners, are you?"


With a silent groan, Syler prepared himself for a fight. Growald was a Seinari sergeant before being captured at Fazei Crossing. As early as the second day of their journey to Kubei, Syler had seen him quietly probing fellow captives to see who would be open to joining a form of resistance, or, in his words, to "remain loyal to their king and land." Syler had ducked his inquiries then, but an angry and bitter Havert had been very receptive to his overtures. Growald and a few men he had managed to rally were one of the reasons why he did not spend much time with Havert. He wanted no part in further fighting, especially since he planned on being gone in a few months anyway.


"I have no love for the Angvardi," he said carefully.


"That ain't what I have been told," taunted Growald. "Word has it that you are pretty chummy with one of the Angvardi guards."


He wouldn't deny it, "Yes, I have a friend among them, but that doesn't mean I support the Angvardi. Besides, liking foreigners doesn't mean I am doing anything wrong. Look at Havert, are we not here celebrating the very fact that he is going to have a child with a Kuti, our traditional enemy? Plenty of our number have accepted the Way, too, I don't see you lambasting them."


"Hey!" interjected Havert. "There ain't nothing wrong with bein' a good husband. I would be a lesser man if I didn't treat my dear Alltis with the respect 'n love she done deserves. The Haresu might think they are the chosen ones of the Tetrarchy, but that don't make it so. We could follow the Way just as good under a Sei king as we can under them."


"That's right, boy," Growald chimed in. The way he smiled at Syler reminded him of a cat preparing to pounce on a helpless mouse. "The Angvardi are confusing a few things if they think they are the destined ones to rule and administer the Way. The Kuti might have been our enemies, but they are in the same situation we are in. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, eh? Besides, Havert here isn't shirking his duties to his kind. He has proven himself to be eager to serve. I can't say the same about you."


Syler took a deep breath and tried not to frown. "I have no ill feelings toward you or your cause, but I have no desire to once again take up arms. I did so once when our king called, but he surrendered and I am no longer bound to my oaths to fight in his name."


It was exactly the answer that the warrior was wanting. "And why is that? Do you think that your duty to your country ends just because our king was forced to surrender? This isn't the first time that we have lost a king, yet our ancestors didn't just give up. Do you not want to see your country free again?"


Syler shook his head, "No, that isn't it at all. I would very much like to see the Sei free of Eastern control, but I do not see the point in trying to fight them here."


"If not here," Growald said while gesturing to the town around them, "then where? If you are too cowardly to take up arms here, why would you take them up anywhere else? It is a good thing that our ancestors weren't like you or our people would have been destroyed long ago."


The table grew quiet as everyone wanted to hear his response. Such an insult was known to result in violence, even if it was simply a fistfight. Syler made the mistake of glancing over at Bronwyn to see her reaction. "Ahh," his adversary laughed, "so you have grown attached to the local flavor, I see. What is the matter, boy? Afraid that you might get hurt and not be able to crawl back to your sweet little toy? She must truly be talented to cause you to abandon your duty to your people."


For the second time in two days, Syler's temper flared. In a sudden move, he stood up and pounded the table in the traditional acceptance of the challenge. He had wanted to avoid being angered and goaded, but the Elements seemed to have other plans for him. If Growald had just been insulting him, he would have taken it, but he would not stand by and see him insult Bronwyn, not like this. Growald had wanted a fight from the start, and he was going to get one.


"My friends!" Havert interjected with a nervous smile and outstretched hands. "This is a time for celebration, not for fighting."


"Stay out of this, Havert," Growald said as he stood up. "This is something that is between this Haresu and myself," he said using the insulting term to describe Syler.


"Please, this isn't going to solve anything!" replied Havert with widened eyes.


"Out of respect for our hosts, I propose we take this outside," offered Syler.


With a sneer, Growald nodded, "Okay, I can live with that. Is your plaything going to watch? You may want her to stay inside so she doesn't see her master get beaten down."


Syler didn't hear Havert's continued pleas as he looked over at Bronwyn. Her eyes met his and he didn't see anything but quiet resolve. Perhaps he was seeing what his raging blood wanted to see, but he could have sworn that he saw support in her eyes and a slight nod for him. "She can stay if she wants," he shot back. "I wouldn't want her to inconvenience herself by having to get up when I will be back in just a few moments."


Growald threw his head back and laughed, "That is the spirit, boy, maybe there is some fight in you after all! Come on, let's get this over with so I get back to my ale." He began heading for the front door, not bothering to look back to see if Syler was following.


With one look of apology to his host and another to Havert, Syler walked around the table and joined Growald outside. A few of the guests joined them, including Bronwyn, Havert, and Alltis. It was dark, but Alltis brought with her a freshly lit torch so they had light enough to see. Rather than being on the street, they were in a small fenced yard behind the house. Growald had already taken off his coat and handed it to one of his friends.


Syler took off his own shirt and handed it to Bronwyn. "I am sorry about this," he whispered.


"I understand," she replied quietly. "Defend your honor”¦ and mine."


He gave her one more look and turned to face his opponent. "First to yield or drop?"


Growald nodded, but Syler knew that neither was going to yield. The only way this challenge would be resolved would be when one of them pummeled the other into unconsciousness. Havert looked like he wanted to step in, but he knew better than to interfere in a formal challenge once the combatants were in position.


Growald was a soldier and had been for all of his adult life. As a sergeant in the Seinari, the Sei's professional army, he was expected to be better than the common soldiers. All of the Seinari that Syler had ever seen were powerfully built and well trained in the art of combat including unarmed fighting. Not only was he taller than Syler, he was also far heavier built and muscular. Syler did not look forward to facing him in a challenge, but even being beaten into submission was better than allowing him to insult Bronwyn in that manner. He knew he was about to take a serious beating, but he didn't care right now. His anger was up and he wanted nothing more than to let it out.


With a smirk, Growald made the opening move by making a jab at Syler's midsection then slapping him in the face when he tried to block it. It was intentionally insulting and everyone knew it, even the Kuti. For the first minute, they traded light blows, though Syler took a lot more than he gave. Growald continued to toy with his prey, occasionally even laughing after being hit.


All of this only increased Syler's fury to the point that he no longer bothered with defending himself. He only focused on trying to inflict damage upon his opponent, a tactic that was not serving him well as the experienced fighter knew how to avoid most of the hasty attacks. His blind fury was getting him in trouble, but he didn't care. A red haze began to form around the edges of his vision as he launched wild swing after swing in an attempt to release his fury.


Growald was enjoying himself at the spectacle and decided to further entice Syler. "This is disappointing, boy. I had hoped for a real fight. Maybe once I finish playing with you, I can go and play with your pretty whore over there. She might like a real man after having a child like you forced on her."


The taunt worked and Syler charged once more. This time, instead of dodging or landing a light, taunting blow, Growald unleashed his own strength and met Syler with a blow to the chest that staggered him. Another blow to the face put the blacksmith on the ground. "You will need to do better than that, boy."


For the first time, pain began to break through the haze of fury and Syler groaned as he spit out dirt. A sharp pain shot through his chest with every breath and he was sure his ribs were broken. He felt something warm dripping down the side of his cheek and into the dirt and his left wrist was too weak to even help him get up.


Instead of giving up, Syler gritted his teeth, ignored the pain, and got back up to his feet. "Very good," Growald taunted in a cruel voice, "I am almost glad you got up, it means I get to show your woman more of my strength."


Syler went back into the fight swinging and with a little more caution. It did him little good as he only ended up back on the ground a few seconds later with a splitting headache. His fury was growing every second until his heart was pounding in his ears and everything seemed to be cast in red light. Pain split his side as Growald kicked him while he was down. His heaving breath came out in a rattle that sent tiny droplets of blood spraying out each time he exhaled.


In yet another insulting gesture, the Seinari knelt down beside the blacksmith and grabbed his hair. Growald pulled him up a little by his hair and said quietly in a strange voice, "Don't fight your fury, Syler, use it and grow past it." Before Syler could react to what was said, Growald smashed his face down into the sandy dirt and held it there for a few seconds. He released his victim and took a few steps back to openly ogle Bronwyn.


Syler didn't understand why Growald would say what he did, but at this point, he didn't care. His fury was beyond control to the point that it was consuming him. He wanted nothing more than to take Growald and smash his head against a rock until it turned into paste. Never before had he been filled with such wrath and hatred. Even during the battle at Fazei Crossing, he did not feel the pure rage that now coursed through him. That fighting had been instinctive, a sense of urgency born out of a desire to survive. This was nothing but pure, adulterated hatred and a desire to inflict pain and suffering on someone else.


Syler had been taught by his father to never lose control of his emotions, especially his anger. Until recently, he could count on one hand the number of times he had struck someone in anger. Each of those times, he had quickly regretted his actions and had managed to hold himself back. This time, though, he didn't want to hold himself back. He wanted to see his opponent on the ground bleeding and in pain. He didn't care about his own honor, he had given that up when he swore a false oath to the Angvardi priests. No, he cared about Bronwyn's honor and didn't want this beast of a man to have the opportunity to make good on his promises to abuse her. He wasn't concerned with himself, he could take a beating. He would not let Bronwyn's fears come true. If Growald won here tonight, nobody would challenge him should he seek to claim her in whatever manner he so desired as long as she was left alive and had no broken bones. It was the spoils of victory, all of the Sei and perhaps even the Kuti knew it.


Syler looked up and, despite the dirt in his eyes, looked at Bronwyn in her green dress staring down at him. Oddly, she didn't seem concerned, but remained standing where she was calm and composed. He didn't have to wait for her eyes to meet his, they already were there.


Something snapped inside Syler at that moment. The red haze that clouded his vision turned white and then there was a sense of detachment. Syler felt as though he were another person, no longer connected to the pains and aches that he had previously earned in this fight. Suddenly, he had a strength that he had never felt before, a second wind he didn't know he had.


With a loud cry, Syler pushed himself out of the dirt and back onto his feet. His face was contorted into a feral smile the likes of which had never been seen on his face before. The pain was gone, the weakness was gone. All that remained was the white and a sense of calm control. Only one thing held Syler's attention at that moment: Growald.


The sergeant stopped laughing and looked Syler over with eyes that betrayed no surprise. The man cocked his head sideways for a moment, then, with a short cry of his own, he went on the offensive for the first time since the fight started. As blow after blow came flying toward him, Syler felt no fear. He didn't feel much of anything but a focus on what he was doing and how to do it. Growald seemed to be moving as though he was under water. Each blow was slow and easy to avoid. Syler didn't even think about what he was doing as he avoided each attack with grace and smooth purpose, he just allowed his body to react. After two dozen blows had failed to even graze his opponent, Growald ended his attack and took a few steps back to catch his breath.


Syler wasn't going to give him the chance.


Using reserves he didn't know he had, Syler flung himself at the larger man and began pounding away at him with blow after devastating blow. He didn't know how he did it, but he did. Growald managed to block some of them, but just as it was while he was on the offense, his actions seemed strangely slow to Syler. Dirt, blood, and sweat flew from both men as they fought with no sense of mercy.


With each blow he successfully landed, the whiteness clouding Syler's vision grew more intense. This fact didn't alarm him””for in truth, he didn't feel any emotions””but it was making it more difficult to see. It didn't matter though, the only thing that did matter was defeating Growald and seeing his motionless body lying on the ground.


He willed it to be, and it was.


With one, final blow that should have broken every bone in his hand, Syler brought his foe to his knees. Through the white haze that was now nearly obscuring nearly everything, Syler swore that he saw Growald smile and say, "You did well, Syler," before his eyes rolled up to the back of his head and he tumbled to the ground. For several seconds, Syler stood there waiting for him to get up, but he didn't.


Then, the world came tumbling down around him. The whiteness faded away into darkness that had nothing to do with the fact that it was nighttime. The focus and clarity that had driven him in the last half of the fight vanished. All of his energy was gone in an instant and he fell to his own knees. Soft arms caught him before he could fall face first into the dirt. In the blackness, he saw hints of green and flashes of a familiar shade of light brown.


He tried to say something, but a soft voice hushed him, "Don't try to speak, Syler."


More voices and colors and blurry shapes surrounded him, but he didn't pay much attention to any of them. His body was in pain once more, but it wasn't the sharp pains he expected. He couldn't find a single area label as the source of his pain, he just ached all over like he had been working at the forge for days without rest.

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Interesting. I wonder what Growald thought he knew about Syler. I mean, clearly, he at least had a thought that Syler was something more, something special. I wonder how he knew that. I'm a little surprised he risked his life for it. I mean, Syler being the Master of Magic is a huge deal and I'm sure Growald would connect it with defeating the Angvardi somehow, but to risk his life to bring out Syler's potential? I need answers!


A few typos stood out that I'm pretty sure weren't deliberately trying for a character's accent.


She might like a real man having a child like you forced on her


After having a child like you.


"it means I get to show your woman more my strength."


More of my strength.


Growald was a solder




Also, I would suggest you think about making the fight a little more even. I mean, Syler is a blacksmith, which means he's very brawny and tough. I don't think a highly trained soldier would outclass him too badly, even though Syler has no real fight training. *shrugs* I mean, the outcome would still be the same, but it's something to think about.


Great and I can't wait for more.


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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I mean, Syler being the Master of Magic is a huge deal and I'm sure Growald would connect it with defeating the Angvardi somehow, but to risk his life to bring out Syler's potential?

But does he know that Syler is the future Master of Magic?


I need answers!

Then you need to continue reading.


A few typos stood out that I'm pretty sure weren't deliberately trying for a character's accent.

They were not intentional, I just got caught up in the moment (I wrote the entire chapter in one sitting from 2-5AM. I have fixed them both here and in the master document.


Also, I would suggest you think about making the fight a little more even. I mean, Syler is a blacksmith, which means he's very brawny and tough.

He might be strong, but he isn't quick nor is he a very experienced fighter (yet). I see it as putting a body builder up against a trained, experienced, and well kept Marine or Ranger. Plus, remember that although Syler isn't a weakling, Growald is taller, bigger, and heavier than he is and has years of actual fighting experience and training.







This is the second half of Chapter 10. Now, I am not very sure about how this is going to be received, so this is where the readers come in. I am trying to do a few things in this part, namely show how Bronwyn's feelings have changed as well as show one of Syler's idiosyncrasies and (ultimately) stubbornness, plus I am setting things up for a little later. I am concerned that it comes across as either unbelievable or simply sappy/corny. If so, please do not hesitate to tell me.






He must have blacked out because the next thing he was aware of was laying comfortably in his bed with a warm, damp rag softly scrubbing his right leg. He jerked a little and took a deep breath and found that he didn't hurt any longer. His vision was slightly blurred, but it was quickly clearing up. When he had jerked, the rag pulled back and he heard a light gasp of surprise.


Looking to his right, he saw Bronwyn standing over him in her green dress with a rag in her hand and two buckets of water beside her. He frowned and said, "Your dress is dirty."


She stared at him in astonishment for a long moment before looking down at herself. The once beautiful dress was now covered in dirt and blood. Syler assumed that the blood was his as he had vague memories of his head resting in her lap before he blacked out. A stab of guilt pierced his heart as he realized he was responsible for her ruining what was probably her best dress.


"Do not worry about it," she replied after looking back up at him. "How are you?"


"Me? I am fine, I think." Syler couldn't feel any pain at all and was beginning to wonder if he was in a dream. If it weren't for Bronwyn's ruined dress, he would have assumed it was and gone back to sleep.


Bronwyn looked baffled. "You took quite the beating tonight, but I can't find anything wrong with you other than that you are covered in blood. I have never seen such a thing."

"I feel fine," Syler assured her, "though I am tired."


He looked down to see if he was bruised and noticed for the first time that he was completely naked laying on top of his sheets. His eyes widened and he looked up at Bronwyn who still had a look of complete confusion on her face. "Umm”¦"


She snapped out of her reverie and said in a no-nonsense tone, "You were filthy when they brought you in, I felt it only proper to clean you up. We didn't know where you had been hurt and I needed to wash away the grime to find the cuts. We didn't know how long you would be unconscious and feared you were in a coma. It could have been days before you woke and I couldn't allow the dirt to infect your wounds." A bit of color rose on her cheeks and she flashed him a mischievous smile, "Besides, I am your wife, after all."


To her credit, Syler did notice that all but his right leg seemed to have been wiped clean. He still didn't feel comfortable completely exposed, so he grabbed a bit of his sheets and used them to preserve his modesty. "How badly was I cut up?"


Though the blush remained, the confused look returned to her face as she answered, "Not at all."




"I couldn't find a single cut or blemish on your body. Believe me, I looked. Your face should have been busted into a mass of cuts and bruises after how many hits you took, but I can't find a single scrape. Your face isn't swollen, either. I cannot explain it at all."


Syler blinked several times and felt his face. It felt normal and didn't hurt at all. Despite much of the fight being a blur, he distinctly remembered receiving a good number of blows to the face and his chest. He poked his ribs and didn't feel any pain there, either. "I don't know what to say," he admitted.


"I am glad you are unhurt, but this is not something I have seen before. The only times I have seen people take a beating like that and emerge unscathed afterwards were wizards or had the help of one."


Syler chuckled, "I am not a wizard, I can assure you of that. If I was, I might have just blown Growald away with lightning or a fireball."


"Hush, Syler," she said soothingly. "Right now, I am just happy with knowing that you are unhurt. We can ponder that mystery tomorrow."


She dipped her rag in one bucket and resumed her work washing his leg. The warm rag felt good against his skin. It was rare for him to be able to use warm water to bathe, even if it was just with a rag. She must have gone to extra care to heat the water up before using it. Now that he was focusing on it, he could smell the scent of some sort of soap he didn't know she had. When she had dirtied up the rag, she rinsed it in a second bucket of dirty water to get the majority of the dirt off before putting it back in the warm water.


Once she finished, he thanked her and would have gotten up to move the buckets except he remembered that he wasn't wearing any clothes. She gestured for him to stay as she washed her hands off in the soapy water before lugging both buckets to the kitchen. Syler was looking around for another pair of pants when she returned with an odd look on her face.


"I want to thank you for what you did back there."


"He had it coming to him," said Syler.


She nodded in agreement, but added in a somber voice, "Havert told me what Growald could have done to me had you lost. It would have been a nightmare that I don't know I could have endured, especially knowing that he would have had to have beaten you near to death before having me."


"It was stupid of me to accept his challenge."


"No, it wasn't," said Bronwyn in a firm voice, "He insulted both of our honor and was a brute. No Kuti man would tolerate what he said about me, either. I, I can't say how much what you did means to me, Syler."


"You are welcome, Bronwyn," said Syler softly.


She looked straight into Syler's eyes as she slowly began undoing the buttons to her dress. "You are a good man, Syler, a very good man. You are far better than I expected or deserve. Tonight, you risked a severe beating or maybe even death for my sake and I won't ever, ever forget that."


Syler wasn't sure what Bronwyn was doing as the dress slipped off her shoulders to the ground. Without taking her eyes off of his, she pulled off the chemise and let it drop to the floor. Syler gulped as she stood naked before him and began walking toward the bed. Her intentions were clear, and he had to admit that, for a long moment, he was inclined to accept her offer. They were clearly no longer random strangers thrown together by an occupying force at the whim of their religion.


"Bronwyn, you don't have to do this," he whispered.


There was no regret in her eyes as she smiled, "Am I not your prize? Did you not fight that man over my honor?"


Syler gulped. "I did, but not for this. I did it because I care for you, not so I could claim you as a prize like he wanted to."


She lay down in the bed next to him. "I know," she whispered, "that is why I am offering myself to you freely of my own choice."


With his heart beating rapidly, Syler looked over her body and saw that she was beautiful, more so than he could ever have imagined. A voice in his head told him to simply relax and accept what she offered and he listened to it for several moments before stepping back and considering his options further. Bronwyn made no further moves, but lay there next to him waiting for him to make his decision. His hand reached out and touched her shoulder gently before tracing its way up her neck to her smooth cheek. He was tempted to pull her to him and lose himself in her arms, but couldn't just yet.


He stared into the green eyes that were hovering just inches from his face and thought of how many times he had been looking into those very eyes over the last two days. In that time, they had been saddened, angry, happy, and determined. Now, they were at peace, comfortable, and open to him. He knew that her greatest fear, one even more than death, was to be violated by a man. For her to do what she had just done showed that she had completely accepted him. He saw no regret on her face as stroked her cheek.


It would be so easy to just take her then and now, but it would be nothing more than lust. She had opened herself and offered herself completely to him, that was something that could not be beaten from her or obtained through threats or torture. She was not offering simple pleasure or physical relief, she was offering her love and in a way, her very essence.


If he were to accept her body and have sex with her tonight, he would be destroying her. No matter how hard he tried, he did not love her. He loved her, true, but not in the way a husband should love his wife. For him, tonight's passion would be just that: passion. They would find bliss and wonder in each other's arms tonight, then in the morning, they would wake and it would be over. She would have given everything to him and he would have done nothing but used her for temporary pleasure.


It would devastate and ruin her.


With a look of regret, he said, "No, I cannot do this."


It was clearly not the answer she was expecting because Bronwyn pulled her head back a few inches. "What?"


"No, Bronwyn, I will not take advantage of you."


She frowned and said, "You are not taking advantage of me, I am offering myself to you."


"You are offering something I cannot return. I am sorry, but while I will admit that I do care for you, I do not care for you in that manner. If I were to lie with you tonight, it would be out of physical desire, not love. I would take the love you are giving me and profane it. Doing that would only lead to suffering for you and heartache for me for hurting one I care about. I cannot do that for a temporary pleasure, no matter how great or how much I want it. I cannot love you as a husband, Bronwyn, I am sorry, but I will not profane your love."


Instead of growing angry, Bronwyn smiled one of the largest, purest smiles he had ever seen. "I love you, Syler Penion, if for nothing other than that."


"You aren't angry?"


She shook her head and the smile remained on her face, "No, I am not angry with you. I would have given everything to you even though I knew you couldn't do the same back." She surprised him by reaching up and pulling him into a long kiss.


When they broke the kiss, she gave him one last look and got out of the bed. Syler was struck speechless and gaped at her. "It doesn't matter if you will ever love me back, I am yours now and forever." She went to the small chest and pulled out her nightgown. As she put it on, she said, "I knew you would win tonight."




"I knew you would win the fight," she repeated. "Last night, while we were sleeping together, I had a kvastat. It was one I had never received before and that was strangely lucid. Normally, I don't recognize people or have an exact recollection of what is happening, but in both of the kvastat I have had of you, it was different.


"I saw you facing a man and knew only that you were fighting for me. Though you were grievously wounded, you stood strong. You were surrounded in a holy white light and overcame your foe through your courage and love for me. When the kvastat was over, I woke and cried silently for joy because I knew that you would protect me."


Though she was smiling, a tear slid down her cheek, "When I saw you on the ground tonight for the second time, beaten and broken, I doubted my own kvastat. My heart broke and I was about to weep for you. Then, in a moment I will never forget, you raised up your head and looked at me with a look of determination and power. In that instant, I saw a man who was stronger than any I have ever seen. My faith was restored and I knew that you would not ever fail me."


Syler did not have a clue of how to respond to that as she handed him a fresh pair of pants and directed him to put them on. "You don't need to say anything, you have been through much. It is a sacred thing among the Kuti when a caetos kvastal reveals her fulfilled kvastat. She predicts often, but rarely reveal them after the event is past. She does not do so to just anyone, but only someone of great importance to her," She smiled once again at him and wiped away the tears from her cheek.


Now that they were both clothed, she gently guided him back into bed. She blew out the candles before joining him in the bed. She snuggled up next to him while laying on her side with her back toward him. Before he could protest, she reached around put a finger over his mouth saying quietly, "Just hold me, Syler. That is all I ask. That is all I need." With a single nod, Syler embraced her and held her close to him. The last two days had left him drained and he felt no desire to resist. With his arms wrapped tightly around her, he drifted off into a restful sleep deeper than any he had had since leaving Sandrin.

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Wow--a man who actually understands women!


Seriously, though, Syler is a good man, and I really like how you've shown us the depth of his character in this one scene. Now we really know that despite his being an oath-breaker, he is a solidly good man. We've been told that before, but now we're seeing it. I highly approve of this section.


I don't think it was cheesy at all, nor is Bronwyn unbelievable. On the contrary, I think you handled her reactions perfectly given the situation.


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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Well, coming from a woman herself, that brings me great comfort. I was very worried that Bronwyn's actions would have been seen as stupid or just some sort of twisted fantasy dreamed up by a male author, but if you don't think so, that gives me hope.






Now, this next part (at least the first section) is also something I was worried about. The first part of the chapter takes place the next day and allows me to explore a little of how Bronwyn feels (though note, she doesn't verbalize this to Syler). This may feel a little odd or out of place, but I tried to integrate it into the story. I feel that it needs to be there not just to show Bronwyn's love, but also to help emphasize something that comes into place in a short bit. The rest of this allows for another month to pass and starts some slow character development for her.


Oh, now things start heating up. I am done with introducing the characters and am on to the action.






Chapter 11


You are all to keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground while on patrol. The Shalktra want this supposed seer and won't leave until they have her. If you see or hear anything suspicious, report it to me immediately. I want these Terulans animals out of my city as soon as possible.


”” Captain Sosar to the Kubei Guards


Village of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


The next morning, Bronwyn rose without a word and busied herself with breakfast. Syler didn't wake until well after dawn, but she didn't fault him. Whatever had happened to him last night was bound to take a lot of his energy away. As she toiled, she puzzled at what would be able to heal him as completely as he had been healed without her noticing it. She would have seen a healer perform healing spells on him as most required physical contact to do so. She had heard of some who could heal at a distance, but it was very rare.


She also had to wrestle with the fact that she had been given a kvastat, had known once more that it was Syler in it, and it had come to pass the very next day. She had only once had a kvastat that revealed itself that quickly. She didn't know what it was, but there was something about Syler that was affecting her abilities. Perhaps it was that she had been slowly falling in love with him, or perhaps it was something else entirely. What that something else could be, she didn't know.


Had this happened as recently as last year, she would have been able to go to another clan and talk with one of their caetos kvastal who was older and wiser. She may have been able to guide her as to what all of this meant and answered her questions. Sadly, the Haresu had killed all of the elder caetos kvastal and driven the rest into hiding to where even she couldn't find them. She was alone in this.


There was an urgent sounding knock at the front door. When she answered it, she was glad to see Havert and Alltis standing there. "How is he? Any changes?" rambled Havert. He didn't let Bronwyn respond before continuing on, "I shouldn't a let him fight like that, it was stupid. If anything happened to him, I'd never forgive myself. I didn't know that Growald could be like that, but I shoulda seen it. He never did like Sei who wasn't wantin' to fight like he does. Don't worry, Bronwyn, if anything happens to Syler, Alltis and I will make sure you are well””"


"Havert!" interrupted Alltis, "Take a breath and let her respond."


Bronwyn gave the other woman a quick smile. "First, come in out of the street." She stepped back to let them enter, then continued, "Second, Syler is fine. Better than fine, actually."


"He woke up?" blurted Havert.


She nodded, "Not just that, but he has no injuries."


"What?" both of them said at once.


"Neither of us can explain it, but as I was cleaning the blood and dirt off of him, I couldn't find as much as a single cut or bruise. When he woke, he had no pain."


"How is that possible? He was beat so bad I didn't think he would ever get up," asked Havert with an almost comically confused expression on his face.


"As I said, neither of us know. The only thing I can think of is that a powerful healer healed him somewhere on the way back here," answered Bronwyn. She shrugged, "Right now, I don't care nearly as much about the how as I do with the fact that he is well and unhurt."


"Where is he?" Alltis asked as she looked around. "We didn't see him outside at the forge."


Bronwyn pointed to the bedroom, "He is asleep. He may be healed physically, but emotionally, I fear he is exhausted. I didn't wake him this morning because I want him to get all the rest he needs."


Havert looked disappointed, but he didn't ask to see his friend. "I guess we will get going. I wanted to check on him to see if he was okay."


"He is," replied Bronwyn with a smile. "Thank you for coming. How is Growald? Syler beat on him pretty badly."


Havert snorted, "He woke up last night and shook it off with nothin' more than a limp, though I bet he is in a heap o' pain. I would watch out for him, though. He ain't one who will take being humiliated lightly."


"We are sorry this happened, and at our feast, too," said Alltis. "I feel like this is partly my fault."


"No," Bronwyn assured her, "it is not your fault. Neither of us is angry with you two. Syler is not one to blame those who do not deserve it nor is he one to allow those to escape responsibility for their actions."


"Yea, that sounds like Syler Penion to me," said Havert.


"Come, dear, we should leave before we wake him up," chided Alltis. "If there is anything you need, please ask us. Syler means a lot to my Havert, we would do anything for him."


"Thank you, but I think he will be fine with a little sleep and rest. I won't let him into the forge today."


"Good luck with that," mumbled Havert. "He was always a stubborn one."


Bronwyn smiled, "Perhaps, but I have my ways."


"Yea," laughed Havert quietly as he looked longingly at Alltis, "wives do have their ways."


His wife blushed and began shooing him back outside. "We need to go now, you have your rounds to make and I need to start getting your lunch ready. I still can't believe you manage to eat three meals a day without growing as fat as a cow."


Bronwyn kept smiling as the two of them walked away arguing over proper eating habits and what was natural. They were a good couple and clearly loved each other despite being forced into marriage. She didn't know Alltis very well, but she did know enough to know that she, like her husband, was a true believer in the Way and accepted what had happened.


Seeing them brought an ache to her heart that she knew would never go away. She had seen in Syler something she had seen in no other man. His presence in her kvastats was special, and the fact that both of the ones she had seen of him had him protecting her only served to confirm that. She had been growing more and more fond of him ever since the first night they were thrown together, but she hadn't realized exactly how much she had grown to care for him until he returned after their argument two nights ago. She had been expecting him to abandon her, but he didn't, he returned. Then, last night, when he had stepped up without hesitation to protect her honor and, ultimately, her purity, she had known that she loved him. He could have had her body, yet he didn't because he knew how much it meant to her and didn't share her feelings. Very few women would ever be able to find a man who would protect them with such fervor and still respect them as much as Syler did her.


The only thing she could ask for was that he one day love her as she loved him, but she knew that might never happen. Last night, she had offered herself up to him and would have loved him no matter what decision he made. He respected her too much to view her as a conquest, a temporary indulgence in pleasure. She vowed that if he wouldn't have her, then nobody would have her. For as long as she lived, she would love him and expect nothing in return. She would give him leave to follow his heart if he were to ever love another woman, though it would hurt her. If he would come to love her in turn someday, she would embrace it wholeheartedly, but she would never demand it from him.




Over the next month, life returned to normal. Syler quickly regained his strength and energy and was able to return to work. Havert and Alltis checked in frequently despite his insistence that he didn't need help. Bronwyn, for her part, spent much of her time in the forge learning from Syler. Though it was unorthodox for a woman, she wanted to learn about being a smith for more reasons than just to be near Syler. She realized that in her life, she really had no trade or skill that would allow her to help contribute to their income. Until now, she had always been supported by her parents and the offerings of the town. Seeing how Syler refused to accept any charity and insisted on working as much as possible inspired her to want to do the same.


After every day at the forge, she ached from the work. She had never been particularly strong because she had never needed to do anything other than to carry water buckets. Now, Syler had her lugging around heavy metal ingots, pulling endlessly on the bellows, or pounding sheets of iron and steel and it left her in pain every night. She bore it silently and without complaint, though she knew that Syler was aware of how she felt. He told her that it would take some time before her body got used to the strain. One of the things she did notice was how hungry she got in the middle of the day. Now, she joined Syler in eating lunch just so she could remain on her feet in the evening.


Ever since the fight with Growald, they had grown even closer than before. She didn't have any more kvastat plaguing her dreams, but slept peacefully in his arms each night. She was thrilled whenever Syler said he was proud of her work in the forge. Every time he complemented her growing skills, it reminded her of how her father would praise her when she was younger and brought back happy memories of her childhood. Syler, for his own part, seemed to enjoy having an eager student to teach. He had quoted his old master Mr. Fitno as saying "you are never truly a master at something until you can successfully teach it to someone else." He didn't consider himself a master smith by any means, but he did enjoy teaching her.


It was almost dusk and they had been working on a particularly difficult order of custom made fittings for none other than the Temple itself. The Haresu had wanted to add a large beacon to the top of it and demanded very particular specifications for its stand. Syler had been lucky enough to draw the attention of the right people and had been given the contract. If they could finish it to the satisfaction of the Angvardi overseers, it would pay a handsome sum. Syler was eager to complete the task because it would give him a very nice addition to their savings and bring him one step closer to being able to leave Kubei and return for his sister.


"I am going to the butcher to get some bacon for breakfast tomorrow," said Bronwyn.


It was Syler's turn to make supper, so he was in the kitchen tending the fire and preparing the food. "Okay, make sure you get some beef, too. I heard there was another herd brought in from the East and I would like to get some beef before it is gone." He had missed the ready access to beef that he had had back in Sandrin, so Bronwyn was always glad to get some whenever it was available. Cattle couldn't normally find enough food and water to survive in Kut, so their only access to it was when a trading caravan brought a heard from the pastures north of Lake Kart east of them.


"I will," she said and grabbed a few extra coins before heading out.




Syler was almost done with the baked chicken they were going to have for supper when the front door was kicked in. He didn't have a chance to react before three of the Shalktra stormed into his house with weapons drawn. Another two came in from the door leading to the forge and grabbed him in a vice grip. Despite his cries of protest, the men broke into the bedroom and searched it before returning to the living room empty handed.


"Where is Bronwyn of Eagoria?" one of them shouted.


He didn't know why they were after her, but he had a very bad feeling about it. "She isn't here!" he shouted.


"Well, where is she?"


"I don't know," Syler lied. "She hasn't been here all day."


The Shalktra clubbed him across the jaw with an armored fist. "You lie, we saw her here working in your forge just hours ago." He reached into his belt and pulled out a wicked looking dagger and put it up against Syler's throat. "Now, I am going to ask you again, where is she?"


If they were willing to kill him over her, Syler knew that meant that her secret was out. It didn't matter how they found out right now, but they had and they wanted her for being a seer just like she had always feared. He had to decide what to do: give up where Bronwyn was or sacrifice his own life in the hope that she would notice something wrong when she returned and flee. He didn't want to die, but he couldn't betray her. If this was the fate that the Elements had for him, then so be it.


He remained silent and merely stared into the Shalktra's eyes in defiance. The man gave him a sneer and pulled his hand back to slash Syler's throat when another voice shouted in the house, "That is enough, Terulan!"


The Shalktra turned around as one to see who had dared interfere. To Syler's relief, he saw the grim face of Lamastus standing in his doorway with his sword drawn and at the ready. There was fire in his eyes and his jaw was set in determination. Syler had never seen him the normally cheerful man look so dangerous. Two other Angvardi guards were behind him also with their swords out and through the window, Syler thought he saw another two with bows and arrows noched and ready with open fields of fire to both the front door and the forge.


"How dare you interfere, guardsman," the Shalktra snarled. "You have no authority here."


Lamastus wasn't going to back down, "On the contrary, your warrant said nothing about any of the husbands or friends. You are authorized only to take the women, nobody else."


"I can take whomever I please as long as I believe they hold the information I seek."


"That wasn't my understanding, nor was it the understanding of Governor Uthas. He will not tolerate you terrorizing even more of the population and ruining his attempts to bring Unity to this city."


"My orders come from King Raul himself."


"I don't care what Terulan they came from," snapped Lamastus as he tightened his grip on his sword. "I answer to the Empress of Angvard and to the governor of Kut. Now leave this man be or I am going to have to explain to my captain why there are five Shalktra bodies in my patrol zone."


For a moment, Syler thought that the Terulans were going to attack, but they didn't have their swords drawn and were trapped in the narrow confines of the house while the Angvardi were ready and could bottle them in at the two doorways and pick them off as they tried to get out. The Shalktra gave Syler one last shove and released him. "Your superiors will hear of this, Angvardi. You had better pray that we find her because if we don't, I will personally be coming for your head."


"Yea, you do that, we will be waiting." Lamastus kept a sharp eye on the five Terulans as they walked out of the house and started searching for Bronwyn elsewhere. He motioned for the other guards to follow them and helped Syler back to his feet. "Are you okay?" he asked.


His jaw was still hurting from being hit, but beyond that, he was fine. "What is going on?" he asked.


"I am so sorry, I tried to get here before they did, but we weren't fast enough and I had to be careful what I told the other guards." Lamastus' brow was furrowed in consternation and he looked even more distressed than Syler felt.


"That doesn't answer my question, why would the Shalktra be looking for Bronwyn?" He thought he knew the answer, but he didn't want to tell Lamastus of her secret even though he had always been a friend.


"The Shalktra think that there is a seer in the population here and they want her for some reason. I don't know what it is, but they have been poking around for the last few weeks and came up with a list of twenty or so women. They just got confirmation of their warrants from Governor Uthas and are going around arresting them."


Syler's throat tightened, "Why do they think Bronwyn is a seer?"


"No clue, but her name is on the warrant. I tried to get here as soon as saw that so I could warn you, but they beat me here. Where is she really? I need to get you both to safety."


It did not even occur to him that Lamastus might be trying to set him up, so Syler answered truthfully, "She went to the butcher to get some meat for tomorrow. She left a few minutes before the Shalktra broke in."


Lamastus' eyes widened, "We need to get to her before they do. Come on, let's go!"


Syler didn't need to be told twice. They both ran out of the house and down the street that led to the market Bronwyn liked to shop at. There weren't many people left on the streets and Syler supposed that word of the arrests was spreading causing everyone to go home to check on their families. Nobody wanted to be on the streets and take the risk of being in the way of the Shalktra.


Despite the clear streets, they were too late. A different group of Shalktra were taking her toward the Temple that served as their headquarters. She was shackled together with another Kuti woman surrounded by four of the Terulans. When Syler cried out her name, she looked up and he saw the blood on her face. Without thinking, he lurched toward her captors, but was held back by Lamastus.


"Not now, my friend, there is nothing we can do for her."


Bronwyn tried to slow down, but was pushed forward by a Shalktra and cried out in pain. There was fear in her eyes and she was crying. The very sight of it stirred his heart while breaking it at the same time. It took all of his willpower not to break free from Lamastus' grip and launch himself against the four heavily armed and armored Terulans.


He watched helplessly as she was taken away with clenched fists. As soon as he saw that he wouldn't run, Lamastus let him go and said, "I will do whatever I can for her, Syler. I swear it."


"What are they going to do with her?" Syler asked through clenched teeth.


"I don't know. It may depend on how much she cooperates or what they are looking for. The warrant didn't say, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing."


"Why isn't that? The Shalktra can do whatever they want with her and they don't have to release her!"


"That may be, but at least the warrant didn't specify that the prisoners be executed afterwards," noted Lamastus. "Though knowing the Shalktra, they would take great pleasure in killing them, but that is where the Governor comes in. If Uthas thinks that killing the women would cause too much of a disruption in his city, he will stop them. He is the key here, Syler. Many of the guards feel as I do and want the Shalktra to burn in Chaos for what they did during the wars. My voice won't be alone, but I urge you, give me time. Don't do anything stupid."


Syler didn't know what he could do right now. They already had her and it was very unlikely that the Angvardi would ever let him into the Temple itself. Attacking it would be futile as it was heavily guarded and had magical defenses. In short, he was helpless right now and that frustrated him more than anything.

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Ooh...interesting. I have a bad feeling about this...


Not much to say--good chapter. I didn't think the first part was out of place or anything. I think it's important to remember to show different characters' persepectives, and I'm glad you brought in Havert and Altis to the conversation.


One typo at the beginning:

...come to past the very next day.


Come to pass.


I wonder if the Shalktra are the people Bronwyn saw in her kvastat...I'm on edge here!


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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From this point forward, Havert and Alltis (there are two l's in her name) start playing a more significant role in things.


As for Bronwyn's reflection there, it will definitely play an important part in her development in several chapters.


I fixed the typo you pointed out, thanks for that. If you see any more, please point them out to me.


I wonder if the Shalktra are the people Bronwyn saw in her kvastat...I'm on edge here!

Just two more sections (one after this) and you will see.






Lamastus said little as they walked slowly back to his house. He seemed to be just as angry as Syler himself and continuously swore that he would take action and do something about this. It helped Syler to see that someone else cared, but as soon as the Angvardi left, he felt alone in the empty house. The chicken he had been preparing had burned, so he threw it out and munched only on a few vegetables that weren't too mushy.


That night, as he was laying in bed, he missed Bronwyn's presence next to him. Over the last few weeks, he had gotten used to her sleeping with him and enjoyed the closeness. Now, he was alone, left to imagine the torments she might be going through in the Shalktra's dungeons. He had never been inside the Temple and had no idea what it was like, but he didn't imagine that it was very welcoming.


He got little sleep that night, but kept tossing and turning. His mind wouldn't shut down, but kept envisioning everything that he might have done differently. He should have left Kubei with her earlier, shortly after the Shalktra arrived. He should have offered to go with her to the butcher. Maybe then he could have held them off while she escaped. There were scenarios floating through his mind with various outcomes, not all of which were good. He was not deluded enough to think that he could have taken the four of the Shalktra that took her any more than he could have defeated the five that came for her here in their house.


Laying there, he began to search his own heart. He had known Bronwyn for a little over two months now. They had lived together, worked together, eaten together, laughed together, and cried together. He had never resented her being forced upon him and didn't think she did either. It was the fault of the Angvardi and their ridiculous religion that uprooted both of their lives and threw them together. It wasn't bad at all, but it wasn't necessarily what he wanted to do with his life.


But something had happened to them both. Though they were initially simply a man and a woman forced to live together, they had formed a friendship, a bond of sorts. He had no problems being friends with Bronwyn because she was an honest, hardworking woman who strove to do what was right. He had known that she was fond of him, but until the night that he fought Growald, he had never known that she had grown to love him. He had to admit, even then, a month ago, he had come to love her in a fashion. Not as a wife, but as a friend just as he loved Havert. He would have done anything for either of them and proved it on that night by standing up to Growald.


On that night, he refused her offer of herself because he couldn't give her a fair trade. She offered complete and total love, but he couldn't match that. It wouldn't have been right to do that to her, so he didn't accept what she offered.


In the past month, though, things had changed and he hadn't even noticed it. It took having her gone for him to see just how much he cared for Bronwyn and it was more than just as a friend. Seeing her dragged away felt like having a piece of his own heart ripped out. He had been a fool over the last month not to realize what had been growing within him, and now he may never see Bronwyn again. He had been too resistant to acknowledge anything that the Angvardi had done in declaring them man and wife, too stubborn to admit that perhaps, fate had meant for them to be together, and too scared to see what was there before his eyes. His rejection of anything Angvardi or part of the Way had caused him to reject even the possibility of anything more than friendship with her.


Now, the pain he was suffering could only mean one thing. He loved Bronwyn, and more than just as a friend. It took not having her here for him to realize how much he needed her in his life. The realization of his own foolishness brought tears to his eyes. For hours, all he could do was reflect back on the last month and see all the missed opportunities he had to simply tell her that he loved her, to be the husband she so clearly wanted, and to give her the companionship she needed after all of her years of isolation.


When the first rays of dawn disturbed his thoughts, he groaned and got out of bed. He was exhausted, but there was no way he was going to get sleep now that it was light outside. He didn't know what to do because he had no motivation to work or even prepare breakfast. He wandered around the house picking things up and putting them down for a time, then found himself walking down the street toward Havert's house.


When he knocked on the door, it took a couple of minutes for anyone to reply. Alltis answered the door and, upon one look at the bags under his bloodshot eyes and his haggard appearance, called urgently for her husband. Havert came running when he heard his wife's startled voice and took the scene in with one quick glance. "What happened?" he asked, not bothering to play around.


Syler almost couldn't speak the words, but he managed to choke them out, "They took her."


Havert let loose a string of curses that would have ordinarily made Syler's toes curl, then apologized to his wife for it. "We heard 'bout the raids from Tald last night. Everyone is furious over it. Growald is spittin' fire and using this to show how not even the Haresu honor the Way."


The mention of his nemesis caused Syler to grimace, but he didn't say anything. Alltis gently grabbed his forearm and said warmly, "Come inside, Syler, let me get you something to eat."


He allowed himself to be led into their house. It wasn't very different from his own, save that instead of a forge, he had a small place to put his wagon and horse. He sat down at their table and allowed Alltis to warm up leftovers from their breakfast in a pan while Havert sat with him providing whatever support he could.


"I'm sorry, is there anything ya can do?" asked Havert.


"Lamastus is going to try to get his superior to talk to the governor," Syler said in monotone. His eyes were staring out at nothing without any spark of life in them.


Havert held back a snort of derision at the mention of the Angvardi for his friend's sake. They had never agreed with his friendship with the guard, but unlike some others, Havert wasn't going to allow that to harm their friendship. "I'm sure he will do his best."


Syler didn't respond, but continued staring lifelessly. Alltis put some bacon and warm flatbread in front of him, but he didn't touch it. They didn't try to force him, but simply sat with him in silence out of respect for what he was going through.


They sat there for a long time. It was strangely comforting to be in a house that had few memories of Bronwyn in it. She had been here a few times, but not as often as he had. Eventually, Havert had to leave to make his runs, but Alltis stayed with him. He didn't move or acknowledge what was around him, even when Havert left. She could not guess what dark places his mind went during that time, but it pained her to see him travel those dismal roads.


"You truly do love her, don't you?" she commented softly. He didn't respond.


Havert came back from his transport runs later than usual because of his late start. The first thing he noticed was that Syler was still sitting where he had been earlier. He pulled his wife aside and asked, "Has he moved at all?"


"No." There were worry lines across her face that had not been there this morning. "I don't know what to do, he is distraught and I think that he is losing himself. Has there been any news of those who were taken?"


"Ya, the Angvardi Haresu are generally not willin' to talk 'bout it, but I gather they ain't happy at all about last night. That Lamastus guy even tracked me down and told me that there was nothin' he could do. Said he looked for Syler at his house, but couldn't find 'im there and looked for me."


"We have to do something, he can't live like this. He hasn't eaten or drank anything all day, I worry about him, and not just his body."


"I don't know what to do, love. I ain't never seen him like this, even after the Haresu whooped us."

"Maybe some of the others can help us””"


"That's it!" Syler shouted. Alltis dropped the cup she was holding and both looked at him.


"What is it?" Havert asked hesitantly.


His friend jumped up and grabbed the redhead with both arms in an almost painful grip. "I know what to do, but I can't do it alone! I need you to have Growald meet me at my house as soon as possible."


"What!" exclaimed Havert. He was chilled by the manic look in Syler's normally controlled eyes, but he didn't know what else to say.


"I need Growald. Tonight. He will want to see me, believe me." Without another word, Syler bounded across the room and had left the house at a full sprint.


Husband and wife shared confused looks, but Havert shrugged and said, "Well, he lost it. He has done finally gone off and lost his mind."


"Havert!" Alltis said as she slapped his shoulder. "Do what he said. Go get Growald and tell him to meet him."


"Have you lost ya mind? Growald would sooner crush him like a little bug than help him."


"Maybe, maybe not. I do know that if you don't do as Syler says, you will forever lose him as a friend. He is desperate and whatever his mind has concocted is the only thing he seems to be holding on to. If you don't go to Growald, I will."


"Okay, okay, I'll do it. Don't you say I didn't warn ya."




Growald found Syler pounding away at his forge despite it being night and there being hardly enough light for him to see what he was doing. He grunted in surprise and wondered what his neighbors thought of the noise he was making. It didn't matter much to him, he didn't care about anyone here except Syler.


"Well, you got my attention," he said gruffly. "You have one minute before I walk away."


Syler didn't stop pounding away at whatever he was working on. "I assume you are angry about what happened last night."

The sergeant shrugged. "Doesn't bother me personally, though one of my men had his wife taken and that doesn't make me happy."


"What are you going to do about it?"


"Don't know yet. We aren't ready to do anything ourselves, but the way things are shaping up, we might not need to. Rumor has it that a bunch of the Angvardi including your friend are putting up a major fuss about the whole thing."


"We both know that isn't going to do anything."


Growald's eyes narrowed, "Do we now? Well, I suppose you would know as you have the closest ties with them of any of us."


Syler stopped pounding on the metal contraption and placed it back into the fire of his furnace. At last, he turned around and looked at the man whom he had knocked out last time they met. The look in his eyes and on his ashen face sent a chill up the battle hardened warrior's back. If he were going to put a finger on it, he would say that there was determination mixed with manic desire on his face. Such a combination could make for a very dangerous man, though whom to was the question.


"What if I can give you an opportunity to strike at the heart of the Angvardi and rescue the women?"


"I am listening," replied Growald said with a smirk.


Syler gestured to what he was working on and said, "This is meant for the Temple. The Angvardi want to put a lamp at the top and I am building its holder."


"That is all well and good of you, helping out our captors. What does that have to do with our situation, or have you completely lost your mind?"


"That is just one small piece of it, the rest is behind me," said Syler while gesturing to a much larger collection of metal, some pieces of which were eight feet tall. "Imagine how large this is going to be when it is finished and assembled. As its maker, I will have to be the one who pieces it together."


Growald stared at him with a blank expression on his face. "So, you are making a really big present for the very people who allowed your wife, whom I know you love because you beat me to a pulp over her, to be captured and are protecting her captors. I think your minute is up, you are insane."


Syler rolled his eyes and said with exaggerated slowness, "It is meant for the Temple. The same Temple where they are holding my wife and where the Shalktra are headquartered. The same Temple where the priests who demanded all of us be transplanted here as part of their 'Unity' project are staying. The same Temple that is the crowning achievement of the Angvardi in this city."


Midway through that explanation, realization had dawned across Growald's face. His eyes grew wide and any humor or disgust faded to nothing. "I see your point. What do you have in mind?"


"It will take me at least three more days to finish this alone," explained Syler. "If I have help, I can probably finish it in two days. Once it is finished, I will tell the overseers at the Temple who hired me. They will want it installed, but I will display extra zeal for the cause and bring it to the Temple with a small group of men eager to display their submission to the Way by offering to install it. We get into the Temple supposedly to set the holder up and along the way, you and your men do what you have always wanted to do and kill a bunch of Haresu. I don't care what you do as long as the women are found and freed."


"You are assuming they are still alive."


The look that came over Syler's face caused the sergeant to take an involuntary step backward despite being half a head taller than him. "If they are not," said Syler, "then may the Elements have mercy on their souls because I will kill as many of them as I have to in order to satisfy my rage."


"I believe you," said Growald with a shudder. He remembered the last time they met and almost felt sorry for anyone who got in this blacksmith's path.


"Can you get weapons and men willing to fight? I don't think I can get in more than a few men, so the rest will have to wait outside to block off reinforcements from the Angvardi guards."


Growald worked his jaw back and forth a bit as he contemplated his resources. "Yea, we got weapons and I think I can get a good forty or so men to fight. I have been hoping to attack the Temple for some time, but I didn't see any way to get past the doors due to that magical barriers. If you can get some of us in, I think we can surprise them and open those doors from the inside which would negate the barriers. They would never expect someone to get through their defenses and won't be prepared for an ambush from within."


"Then we have a deal," said Syler as he offered his hand.


"Yes, I think we do," Growald replied as he took it and they shook hands. "Welcome back to the fight, brother."

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Just read Chapter 9, and I have to say, it was rock solid. Very believable, enjoyable, natural dialogue, good character development and an easy introduction of new 'characters'. I like Lamastus, and can see him playing a bigger part in the story as it goes on.



Just read 10a. I also got the impression that Growald knew something about Syler. The fight was interesting...the transition from red haze to white felt odd...probably more because I've not read a fistfight with this kind of change in a very very long time, more then anything to do with the actual writing.


Edit Edit:


Just read 10b, and I agree with Ami. You've captured a potentially corny cheesey sequence with taste and class. Brilliantly done. And I can only echo the sentiments about Syler being a good man.

Member of Jnet Addict Club 12/05

Order of the Nocturnal


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Nice update! Now things are happening...I feel like no matter what the outcome of this plan, nothing will be the same in this village. Desperation can drive men to great acts. I hope it works out!


Didn't notice anything to crit in this last section.


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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The fight was interesting...the transition from red haze to white felt odd...probably more because I've not read a fistfight with this kind of change in a very very long time, more then anything to do with the actual writing.

Just to be clear, that was one of Syler's magical abilities, not something I would ever expect a real person to be able to do. More will be explained once he starts finding more out about himself.


Just read 10b, and I agree with Ami. You've captured a potentially corny cheesey sequence with taste and class. Brilliantly done. And I can only echo the sentiments about Syler being a good man.

Again, I am very, very relieved. I was truly concerned about that part when I wrote it. I had envisioned it for some time, but was worried it didn't translate well to text.




Okay, this is it, the end of Act 1. It is a long chapter, almost 9000 words long, but it is pivotal. The excrement definitely hits the fan in this one.





Chapter 12


"What can the Master of Magic do?" you ask? Many have speculated on what powers he will be able to wield and how he will act, but it is just speculation. What I do know is that I would not want to be against the One should his fury be roused.


”” Sage Te of Fogora


Temple of Kubei

Village of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


It had been three days since Bronwyn had been taken and everything was set. True to his word, Growald had provided no fewer than three men at any given time to help Syler build the lamp holder. He didn't know what other plans the sergeant was making and he didn't care. As long as he got inside that Temple and was able to rescue Bronwyn, he didn't care what happened. He had determined that regardless of the outcome, should they survive, he was going to leave the city and try to make it back to Sandrin to find his sister. He had gathered all of his meager savings and made sure to put extra food in the small pack he was supposedly carrying his tools in. The night before, he sneaked out of the village and placed two packs full of food, clothes, and a bedroll in a large bush with the intention of collecting them on their way out.


Havert had insisted on joining the group going inside. Syler was glad to have him at his side, but made sure the rash redhead knew the danger he and his wife would be in. "Syler Penion, I have been trying to get you to fight for months now, do you really think I am going to sit by and watch as you finally do?" had been his response. Syler warned him that it was very likely that some of the priests would get killed, but his friend shrugged. He said that even though they were priests of the Way, they had perverted the religion by demanding Unity and the conquest of other lands and therefore were no longer protected from violence.


Everything was set and Growald assured him that everything was in place. It had taken until the late afternoon to finish the last touches on the holder, but it was finished and they were on their way. He, Syler, Havert, and three of his best men were riding in Havert's wagon with the pieces of the holder making their way to the central square and the towering Temple that loomed over the entire city. Their weapons were concealed within the wrappings of the pieces, though each carried knives tucked away in their belts.


Syler had cleared everything with the Angvardi overseer who was eager to get the lamp holder in place so he could get the priests off his back. Syler didn't look off to the sides, but kept his gaze forward and his jaw set. He had gotten little sleep over the last few days, but had been fueled by images of horror that Bronwyn was likely facing. He had lost weight and his skin had taken an ashen appearance, but he didn't care. All that mattered was finishing his work and preparing for tonight.


Havert grunted behind him as he hoisted one of the three packs of metal bound in cloth that Syler had packaged the struts in. He paid his friend no heed, but instead was focused on the ominous black doors that were beginning to open. As a smith who centered his life around working with metal, Syler had often wondered what sort of alloy these oily doors were. He had asked a few people in passing over the last two months, but nobody knew. As he passed by them and got closer to them than he had ever been before, he was left as clueless as to their nature as he had been the first time he saw them.


They were forced to get out of the wagon at the edge of the central square. The six of them split into teams of two and hoisted the beams over their shoulders. Four regular city guards met them and told them that they were to be escorted into the Temple itself so they could install it.


After walking through the empty square, the guards that had been escorting them stopped at the door to the Temple itself. The door opened slowly from the inside as those inside noted their arrival. Once inside, they were met by four Shalktra and a priest wearing the white colors of Faetwel. The priest was clearly excited over the arrival of their precious lamp holder and inspected the visible parts of the struts. Syler assured him that he could see them in all of their glory as soon as they were on the roof and able to install them. He almost threw up when the priest blessed them for their piety for offering to piece the struts together.


As soon as the doors shut and the Angvardi guards outside were not able to see what was happening inside, Growald made his move. As one, all six of them pulled out their knives and either slit the guard's throats or drove their blade into their hearts. Syler was glad that Growald's former Seinari were well skilled because they had done the dirty work before their targets could as much as cry out.


"Now, we open the door and let our friends in," Growald said with obvious pleasure as he triggered the lever that would force the door open.


Syler was looking around for anyone else to notice them, but nobody did. The others quickly fell upon the four hapless Angvardi guards that had been outside and cut them to pieces with little trouble. That was the signal for the other three dozen men to charge into the square and launch their attack unopposed.


Instead of shouting battle cries, they were all silent. In their brief meeting before setting out, Growald had emphasized that the element of surprise was only good if the enemy was actually surprised when they saw them. Nobody wanted to face a hundred alert and wary Shalktra and whatever priests might be within, so they kept quiet.


Once inside, they dragged the bodies of the Angvardi in with them, spread sand over the blood stains, and sealed the doors behind them. Growald hoped that the casual passerby wouldn't notice the lack of guards and that any reinforcements would be inhibited by the door itself. If the Angvardi were alerted to what was going on, they would surround the Temple and a very nasty siege would begin, but that wasn't Growald's concern at this moment. He wanted to at least have the opportunity to deal with everyone in the Temple uninterrupted before they had to worry about getting out.


"We head down, now," said Growald quietly.


"Down?" asked Havert with a look of confusion.


"Yes, down. The priests here wouldn't want the shrieks of anguish to interrupt their meditations, so the prisoners will be held underground, and believe me, there is an underground component here."


Growald started down one of the hallways with six of his men with them. Havert and Syler quickly followed while the others went off to do whatever it was they had been ordered to do. Their group encountered a few priests and a couple of off duty Shalktra, but there was not much resistance as they made their way towards what Syler hoped was the entrance to whatever underground lair this Temple held their prisoners in.


At last, Growald pulled open a door revealing stairs that went down instead of up. He was right. Without pause, he charged down the stairs with such force that he bowled over the two guards standing at the bottom. His men killed them quickly as he continued his charge hoping to catch any more guards by surprise. The stairs had opened into a room a little larger than the main room in Bronwyn's house that divided into three passageways each leading different directions. Their attack had not gone unnoticed and four more Shalktra emerged from one of the passageways. Growald and his men charged head first into them and filled the room with the sound of clashing metal and the cries of men in mortal combat.


Syler blocked one of the Shalktra's attacks and prepared to block the next when Havert dug his sword into the man's side. The fighting didn't last for long with the Terulans being outnumbered two to one. As a testament to their skills despite being outnumbered so badly, two of Growald's men remained unmoving on the ground.


With only six of them left and three passageways, Growald ordered them to split up in groups of two. Syler and Havert went down the passageway directly opposite of the stairway entrance and continued down it cautiously. Syler had expected the passageway to quickly lead into a series of rooms, but it did not. Instead, it began a fairly sharp decline leading them deeper into the earth in a series of odd twists and turns. The stone walls were no longer the crisp, cleanly cut and occasionally polished stones that made up the tower portion of the Temple, but were now rough, poorly fitting stones held together by mortar hastily applied. Instead of ornate lanterns, the corridor was lit by crude torches in plain holders stationed every couple of yards. Syler figured that whoever went down here didn't care about aesthetics.


They went on for another hundred or so yards before they heard it: faint screams echoing down the passageway from in front of them that Syler thought sounded familiar. Both friends looked at each other for a second before breaking into a run. They ran another fifty or so yards before coming to a room containing several cell doors. All but one of the doors was shut, but one was open.


The one with very familiar shrieks of horror and pain coming from it.


Syler sprinted forward and halted in shock at what he saw. There, with his back to him, was a man standing over a naked and bloody Bronwyn with a knife in his hand making a cut down her left arm. He didn't hesitate, but merely reacted on instinct and lashed out with his sword to cut the man's entire hand off just above the wrist. The man's mouth gaped in a silent cry of pain, but Syler didn't want to give him any chance to recover and harm Bronwyn again. Without hesitation or remorse, he shoved his sword clean through the man's back and pulled it out with a sickening wet squelching sound. The man tumbled to the ground without another word and would never move again.


Not that the man was dead, Syler's attention turned to Bronwyn. She was completely naked, but was clothed in blood and filth. He could see bruises and older lash marks on her arms and back, but it was the fresh cuts along her chest and stomach and down her left arm that concerned him the most. He knelt next to her and ripped part of the dead man's shirt to form a rag with which to wipe the blood off of her face.


"Bronwyn, I am so sorry I took so long," he said in anguish. He looked over the dead man and saw he wore a ring of keys, so he quickly stripped them off of his belt and went about finding which one would unlock Bronwyn. When she was at last free, he cradled her filthy head in his arms while telling her everything would be okay.


He was so focused on her, he didn't even hear the commotion outside as Havert found himself facing two Shalktra who had been in a small room at the end of the row of cells. He was calling out to Syler, but wasn't able to get to Bronwyn's cell. Facing the more experienced warriors, he was driven back into the passageway they came from and was using the narrow walls to keep from being overwhelmed.


One Shalktra let his companion deal with the redhead while he went to find Syler. When he approached the cell, he smiled in anticipation of the easy kill. Syler was kneeling on the ground half holding Bronwyn with his sword lying next to him. He jerked when he finally heard Havert's screams and the sound of swords clashing, but it was too late.


The Shalktra clubbed him with the hilt of his sword sending him to the ground. Bronwyn screamed, but Syler was in too much pain to think about screaming with her. The Shalktra laughed and grabbed Bronwyn by her light brown hair and pulled her up to where he could see her better. "Shame about the cuts," he leered, " but I am sure you will still be just as much fun. Killing always whetted my appetite for women."


Bronwyn's shriek turned Syler's blood into ice in his veins. Never before had he heard someone in such pure terror, and judging on the Terulan's words, he had a good idea why. The very thought of it melted the ice faster than a snowdrop in the middle of his forge and caused his fury to boil over.


The pain in his head was ignored as he lunged using both his hands and feet to propel him at the Shalktra. The man was too busy enjoying Bronwyn's helpless squirming to react in time and fell as Syler's full weight slammed into him. The three of them tumbled back against the cell wall and slid to the floor. Bronwyn scrambled away, but Syler bent all of his focus and will towards one goal: getting his hands around the vile Shalktra's neck. He allowed his hatred for this man to drive him in his struggle and ignored all else. The only thing that mattered was killing this man or being killed and leaving Bronwyn in his cruel hands.


The Shalktra's confident look quickly melted into panic as Syler's hands found their target. The blacksmith didn't bother trying to choke the life out of the man, he simply got a good grasp on his neck, squeezed as tightly as he could, and jerked. There was a faint pop and the Shalktra stopped struggling, his face permanently frozen with his wide eyes looking up and his mouth gaping.


Syler remained on top of the other man for a few moments while catching his breath. He didn't hear any more fighting in the hall and feared what that meant. Before he could get up to see what was happening outside the cell door, he felt the cold touch of steel on the back of his neck and realized it was all over.


He closed his eyes and waited for the final blow, but none came. Risking a look behind him, he saw that the sword wasn't being held by another Shalktra, but by Bronwyn. In the brief struggle with the Shalktra, she had grabbed Syler's dropped weapon and now held it to Syler's throat as he turned around slowly. Her lips were peeled back in a snarl and her cheeks were red with more than just blood. Her eyes held no humanity within them, but were more fierce than a wolf's. He hadn't ever seen her like this and wondered what it had taken to bring her to this point.


"Bronwyn, it's me," he said calmly. His words didn't register on her face. He smiled and made sure he didn't make any sudden moves as he tried to slowly stand up. "You know me. I am Syler, remember?" There was no response from her, but she kept the sword steady in her bloody hands.


"Wha””" came Havert's voice from the cell door. Syler grimaced both at his extremely bad timing and from the feeling of the sword as it was pressed slightly into the soft flesh just above his collarbone.


"Stay back," he said calmly to his friend. He looked back at Bronwyn and met her manic eyes. "I am Syler, your friend. I came here to rescue you, but I can't help you if you don't put down that sword."


Her head began to jerk back and forth a little, but there was still no other reaction. "Look, Bronwyn, you love me and the Bronwyn I know would never hurt me. I have only ever tried to protect you. I love you, Bronwyn, I love you and was too stupid to admit it until after you were gone." Realization slowly began to dawn on her face and her grip on the sword lessened a little, but she did not put it down, so Syler continued. "I am so sorry that it took me so long to come for you, but I couldn't do it alone. I spent day and night working to get you out and I have come for you." Tears were beginning to form in her eyes and one or two escaped to mix with the blood splattered all over her face. "If you put that sword down, we can get out of this place and escape forever. We will never come back to this place."


With a single sob, Bronwyn dropped the sword and grabbed Syler in a fierce hug, "Syler, my love," she said, though her voice was a mere whimper. "It is you."


Syler returned her embrace and stroked her matted hair for a few seconds, but had to break it and step back. "We need to get out of here or we will be trapped."


Though she was still shaken and clearly weak from her captivity, Bronwyn was herself again. Havert had pulled the Shalktra's shirt off and gave it to her. It wasn't enough to cover all of her nakedness, but it was better than nothing. While she pulled the large shirt on, Syler looked out in the cell block and saw the bloody body of the other Shalktra where Havert had felled him. He took another look around to make sure there were no more foes around. Only then did it register that the other cells were occupied. Some of the other women were there as well, though they didn't dare cry out for fear that the wrong people would answer.


"Come on," he told Havert as he picked up his sword and the key ring from the torturer off of the ground. "We need to get these other women out."


They left Bronwyn to collect herself while they quickly began releasing the other six women. They were all in bad shape, but it was clear to Syler that those who were the most attractive had seen the worst of it. Not all were naked, but some were. One poor woman was unconscious and had to be carried out by two of the stronger women. Syler and Havert needed to be free in order to fight off any further Shalktra.


When they were finished, Syler went to get Bronwyn. As he looked into her dim cell, he was surprised to see her wearing the Shalktra's pants and shoes. The pain and shock was still on her face, but with it was also a look of determination. "I am sorry, Syler," she said with a voice made hoarse by screaming. "I would never hurt you."


"You have nothing to apologize for," said Syler. "After what they did to you, I would be surprised if you weren't jittery."


She looked at him with eyes that still possessed a hint of the craze that filled them earlier and said, "Promise me that you won't let them take me, even if you have to kill me."


Syler prayed that it would never come to that, but after seeing what they had done to her and the other women here, he could understand why she wouldn't want to go back to it. "I promise."


She nodded and followed him when he led her out. Havert had finished getting the other five women ready to move. Though two were carrying the unconscious woman, all looked eager to get out and offered no resistance at all to their directions. They were silent, too, and for that, Syler was very grateful. He had heard enough screaming today to keep him up for a lifetime of nights.


They managed to make their way through the winding passageway and to the room that led the stairway up and saw that they were not the first ones to make it back. The second pair of Growald's men had returned with six other freed prisoners in a condition similar to what the women they freed were in. The men didn't say anything, but remained in their watchful positions with their eyes on all four entrances to the small room.


A minute after Syler's group arrived, Growald arrived one man short but with seven women in tow. He took one look at Syler and asked, "What happened to you, boy?" He gestured at Syler's chest and head.


For the first time, Syler noticed that there was fresh blood dripping down the side of his face where the Shalktra had hit him with his sword hilt. His chest, too was covered in blood, but it wasn't his. "The head was just from one of the Terulans getting the drop on me before I killed him," he explained quickly. "The rest of it mostly Bronwyn's blood but also some of her torturer's."


Growald looked over to see Bronwyn in her Shalktra outfit but with blood still dripping slowly down from her arm and a large stain down the center of her chest. He made no comment, but shook his head in what might have been anger as he took stock of the situation. There were now five men left and they were now responsible for twenty women, one of which was still unconscious.


"Let's get out of here," he said gruffly. "There should be more of us up top and if the Elements are with us, we might be able to escape into the city without much notice."


The group didn't even manage to get to the top of the stairs before running into further resistance. Three priests armed with daggers and a Shalktra were inspecting the bodies of the two Shalktra that had been guarding the door. They looked up when they heard footsteps and charged down the narrow stairs to confront them.


Growald was in the front and started to fend them off, but the priests proved to be surprisingly adept with their weapons. He killed one of them before a priest managed to slice him deeply in his right arm causing him to drop his sword. With a loud curse, he punched the priest in the face with his left fist and backed away. Syler, who was behind him, was more than willing to take his place. He was still furious at how the women had been treated and now that he had Bronwyn with him, he would not let anyone stand in his way on their flight to freedom.


The priest who had sliced Growald tried to stab him in the side, but Syler managed to twist out of the way and make a quick slash into the side of the priest's neck. The Shalktra stepped over the fallen priest's body and attacked with his sword. He locked blades with Syler, then fell back with blood gurgling out of his mouth as one of the Sei men threw his knife over Syler's shoulder and into the Terulan's neck.


Syler didn't have time to thank the man before the last priest was on him. After a few rapid exchanges, Syler shoved the priest's knife hand out of the way, grabbed his robes, and pulled him into his waiting sword. After the priest breathed his last pained breath, he let him go and pulled his sword free. The way up was now clear, but Syler didn't take any chances that there might be more of them and kept his attention focused ahead.


A hand clapped his shoulder and he heard Growald's voice say, "Good work, those priests were no holy men, but trained assassins and were not easy to kill."


"I don't care, we need to get out of here," said Syler through clenched teeth.


"We need to meet up with the others, assuming there are any. They should be done with their tasks by now, though the presence of these here isn't a good sign."


With a shrug, Syler continued up the stairs and into the main Temple tower. What they emerged into was absolute chaos. As they cautiously worked their way to the front doors, they encountered bodies and random destruction at almost every corner. Most of them were of priests or Shalktra, but there were several Sei who had met their deaths among the bodies of their foes. Blood was everywhere, as were scorch marks from fire.


Growald didn't seem fazed by the carnage around them, but continued to push them forward while tightening a bandage around his wounded sword arm. Several of the women had grabbed bits of clothing or even some weapons along the way, though Syler didn't count on them contributing much to any fight in their weakened state. Bronwyn stayed close to him, as did Havert.


As they passed a room, Syler heard a noise inside and motioned for everyone to stop. With his sword at the ready and Havert at his back, he entered the room to investigate. Inside, cowering behind a plush fur chair, was a green robed priest. "Please, don't hurt me!" he cried out when he saw that he had been discovered.


Syler looked at the man with a placid face and asked, "Did you know about the underground prison cells?"


Beads of sweat formed on the priest's forehead as he answered in a quavering voice, "Yes, we all did. We built them after the tower had been constructed."


Syler struggled to keep his voice even as he asked another question, "Did you know what happened down there to the women behind held by the Shalktra?"


"It was necessary for the will of the Way," the priest said a little too quickly. Syler could tell that it was a conditioned response born of repetition and self delusion. The darkening of his eyes and his set jaw told the priest that it was the wrong thing to say.


"Then your death is necessary for your crimes," replied Syler. His voice was void of warmth or mercy. This man was supposed to be a priest, a man of peace and religious guidance. Even if Syler didn't believe in the Way, he respected the right of others to believe in it. But after seeing what happened down below and finding out that the priests above were completely complicit in it, Syler was sickened. These men were just as guilty as the man who was torturing Bronwyn for sport. His fate would be the same.


"No! Please have merc””" whatever else the priest was going to say was cut short by Syler's sword as it struck off the man's head.


Before he even finished the swing, there was a rumble of thunder outside that was loud enough to be heard even within this stone tower. The floor shook for a few moments knocking things to the ground around them. Syler had heard of groundquakes before, but had never been in one and was a little stunned. He backed away from the priest's body trying to keep on his feet as the ground continued to shake around him.

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Wow...definitely a lot happening. You moved quickly, but overall it was a good section. I like how the Shalktra are not too hard to kill. Makes them more real. It's easy to go overboard with bad guys.


That isn't where part 1 ends, is it? If so, that's a terrible place to end, because I feel like it just stopped. If not, then good, and I want the conclusion of the chapter.


Two things:


He almost threw up when the priest blessed them for their piety for offering to piece the struts together.


I think was really weird. It jumped out at me as being out of character and the wrong tone for what was going on. Maybe something like "his stomach turned in revulsion" or something if you want to convey the same idea.


"Good work, those priests were no holy men, but trained assassins and were not easy to kill."


This is a weird sentence too. I think it needs to be two sentences or something. The grammar is just off somehow. I don't think you need the "and were not easy to kill" part, because you just showed that they were hard to kill, and just the fact that they were trained assassins also tells us that.


I also had some questions with that. 1) Why would there be trained assassins in the temple? Who were they going to assassinate? And 2) How does he know that they are trained assassins? What makes him think that they weren't just priests really good at fighting?


Looking forward to more!


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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That isn't where part 1 ends, is it? If so, that's a terrible place to end, because I feel like it just stopped. If not, then good, and I want the conclusion of the chapter.

No, that was not the end of the chapter, not at all. That was just the first breaking point roughly in the middle of the chapter that I chose for the sake of not overwhelming readers with a 9000 word post.


I like how the Shalktra are not too hard to kill. Makes them more real. It's easy to go overboard with bad guys.

The Shalktra are men, just ordinary men (though some have magic). They are not super soldiers, just brutal beasts of men who are fanatically loyal to their radical cause of Terulan supremacy and the Way. That doesn't mean that they are pushovers, though. Of the 40 Sei who entered the Temple, only like 8 walk out, and that is with catching the Shalktra by surprise. I just couldn't have all (but two) of the main characters get killed this early in the story.


I think was really weird. It jumped out at me as being out of character and the wrong tone for what was going on. Maybe something like "his stomach turned in revulsion" or something if you want to convey the same idea.

Yea, the idea was that having the priests essentially bless them for coming in there to kill them was highly repulsive. Looking at that now after some distance, I see that didn't quite get through. I will fix that.


This is a weird sentence too. I think it needs to be two sentences or something. The grammar is just off somehow. I don't think you need the "and were not easy to kill" part, because you just showed that they were hard to kill, and just the fact that they were trained assassins also tells us that.

Again, you are right. I shall fix that.


I also had some questions with that. 1) Why would there be trained assassins in the temple? Who were they going to assassinate?

Because many of the priests are also trained to kill. Warrior monks, in a way. They are genuine priests, make no doubt about it, but they learn to kill. Why would the Priests of the Way be trained to fight? Well, you shall see later on.


And 2) How does he know that they are trained assassins? What makes him think that they weren't just priests really good at fighting?

My secret. Beyond the fact that he is a trained soldier who can spot training in others, you will find that Growald knows a lot of things that he really shouldn't be able to know. Why? Again, you will find out in due time.



This is the continuation of the chapter. Please note, there is a section break at the end of where my previous post was (which is why I ended that post there). All of this is taking place at once, there is no time break.


Warning: there are descriptions of the results of torture in this part. It may be a bit disturbing, but this is rated PG-13 for a reason.







* * * * *


Governor's Palace

Village of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


Governor Uthas was sitting in a comfortable chair drinking a cup of wine and enjoying fresh pork when a sound like thunder rattled his glass. That was followed by the ground trembling below his feet causing one of the glasses to slide along the edge of his table and crash to the ground. The shaking lasted no more than fifteen seconds during which he finished the rest of his cup and sat back with a content smile.


"Ahhh, so the rabble has taken the Temple," he said calmly and without a rush.


"It would seem so, my lord," replied a man standing behind him.


"Or perhaps, he has completed the next step," the governor added.


"Just as you predicted, my lord."


It was a good day, a very good day. Not only did those damnable Shalktra get a bloody nose, but he had helped move destiny along. "You know what comes next." It was a statement, not a question, because they had already discussed this in length. The moment the warrant came to his attention, Uthas had summoned his best operative and given him very specific instructions. Everything had to play out exactly according to plan for it to all work and so far, it was.


He laughed at the blind foolishness of the Terulans who thought they were the masters of intrigue. They thought that they could come into his domain and steal the Master of Magic right from under his nose. They thought he was just some ignorant bureaucrat stationed to a barbaric little outpost in the uncivilized West and dismissed him. "Such arrogance," he said aloud. More than one potential candidate had met unfortunate ends or had been publicly disgraced to allow him to rise to the top of the list. Years of planning had positioned him in just the right spot to receive governorship of the first Western province conquered by the Angvardi Empire. He had undergone careful preparation to ensure that things fell into place.


He had read prophecy since he was young. Numerous sages had taught him everything they knew””right before he killed them to keep them from reporting that fact. He had learned of the prophecy regarding the seer from Zazasp and had sought this position. While the foolish Shalktra had been seeking the seer for a month, he had known about her for more than four times that long and had kept a watchful eye on her. Her ignorant husband had received more than his share of high paying jobs for the governor's office because he wanted to keep a close eye on him should he turn out to be connected to everything somehow.


Now it was all paying off. He had taken numerous calculated gambles and now, at last, the sign had come that he was on the right path. All he had to do was make a few more moves and everything would be finished. He was fully aware of the pitiful band of Sei malcontents that had been growing more and more bold over the last few weeks. When he received word of this warrant from the Shalktra, he had seen the potential it had of stirring them into open violence. Despite multiple complaints from Captain Sosar, he had allowed it. Even more, he had ordered extra patrols along the farmlands that surrounded Kubei under the guise that he was concerned about rogue Kuti raiders stealing or burning the crops. Only the smallest of security force was left in the city and would not be able to mount any sort of counterattack on the Sei who he guessed would try to free the women. After all, it wouldn't do to flush out the Master of Magic only to get him killed trying to escape.


"Go now," he said to his operative, "intercept him before he gets out of the city."


"What of the priests that were in the Temple?" the operative asked.


Uthas arched a single eyebrow, "What of them? They were necessary sacrifices for the greater good. The gods will reward them in the afterlife."

"Forgive me, my lord," the operative said with a bow, "I did not mean to question you."


"Go then, see that nobody gets in your way," the governor commanded. "I will see you when this is all done. Succeed and you will be rewarded beyond your wildest imaginations, fail me and you will be like one of those priests: a necessary sacrifice."


* * * * *


Temple of Kubei

Village of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


By the time both of them made it out to the hallway where the others were, the ground had become solid once more. "What was that?" he said to nobody in general.


"A sign," replied Growald in a voice that seemed too soft for him. His eyes were focused on something far away for a few moments before he shook his head and pointed the way forward. "We need to get out of here before reinforcements come."


Syler wasn't so quick to drop the subject. "What sort of sign?"


"One based in magic," snapped Growald. "Unless you want to stay here and find out what would happen to us should it fully convalesce, then we need to start moving."


Syler wasn't fully convinced, but he had to admit that the Seinari sergeant had more experience around magic wielders than he after being around all the battlemages and wizards. He made a note to bring the subject up later, but for now, it probably was best for them to get out of the Temple. If there weren't Angvardi forces outside already, it was only a matter of time before there would be.


Syler noticed that Havert was looking at him oddly. "What?" he asked.


"You didn't have to kill him," he said disapprovingly. "He was no threat."


Syler shook his head, "He was party to what happened down there, that makes him just as guilty as the men doing the actual torture. He got exactly what he deserved."


"You killed him in cold blood!" exclaimed Havert.


Syler shrugged, "My only regret is that I couldn't make him experience what Bronwyn did."


"Enough back there," Growald called back. "Focus and keep your mouths shut."


Havert continued to eye him, but followed the sergeant's orders. Syler knew that they would be having another conversation about this later and didn't look forward to it. He knew he had killed the priest in cold blood, but he didn't feel the slightest bit guilty for it. The man deserved what he got.


When they reached the front doors, there were seven Sei waiting for them. All of them were covered in blood and most of them appeared to be wounded. "Report, soldier," Growald barked out.


"We managed to surprise the Shalktra at first and killed scores of them," one of them reported. "We also killed as many priests as we could see, but some of them had magic and managed to drive us back. We sealed the stairwells as best as we could to contain the rest of them, but a few had managed to get in before we could get the last one. Ten of us were killed trying to drive them back and this is all that remains."


"We knew that losses would be heavy, but we scored a major victory by killing so many and in their own cursed Temple nonetheless. How long will the stairwell doors hold?"


"Not long, sir, we were about to unseal the front doors when we felt the entire Temple tremble. We feared magic was being used outside to assail the doors and were debating on what to do when you arrived. We are glad you managed to rescue the women. Clearly those here were beasts judging by how they look."


"They were, but most of them paid for their crimes," Growald assured him. "We need to get out quickly before the rest of the Shalktra and priests get through the stairwell doors."


At his direction, two of the Sei unsealed the front doors while the rest of the men and the most courageous women stood ready for whatever was to come in. To their surprise, nobody waited for them outside. They could see no guards or mages at all. The only people that could be seen were a few townspeople walking along the outside of the outer wall, likely on their way to the market.


"I can't believe it," Havert commented incredulously.


Growald clearly didn't like the situation and motioned for them to stay where they were. "This is too convenient. There is no way that he didn't know what was going on by now."


"What do you want to do, sir?" asked one of the men.


The sergeant mulled that question over for a few moments before saying, "Keep your eyes out. I want to see what they are going to do now that the doors are open."


A distant crash came from somewhere behind them and Syler knew they didn't have any time. "We don't have a choice, we have to go or they will attack from behind. We can't fight with all these women, especially not if they have magic."


Growald frowned and said, "Alright, let us get out of here before they figure out where we are. All of you know what to do once we get into the city."


His men nodded in agreement, and followed him as he ran out of the Temple. Syler, Havert, and Bronwyn stayed at the rear of the group and made sure that none of the women fell behind. Syler's heart was pounding with each step as he expected arrows or worse, fireballs to start pummeling them.


They made it out of the square and into the town itself without an incident. As soon as they did, some of the women began to scatter likely heading home. Growald tried to stop them, but they wouldn't listen. As they fled, he shook his head in disgust and muttered, "Stupid women, they will only end up back where we found them." The remaining thirteen women, including the unconscious one, remained with the Sei.


They kept running until they were several blocks from the square itself and were able to get into a walled off storage yard that had been prepared for the autumn harvest that hadn't yet been gathered. It offered an ideal if only temporary place to hide from prying eyes as it was sheltered on all sides by a brick wall and had only one entrance that offered a good view of the street on both sides. There was a trough full of water to rinse themselves off in and another bucket for drinking. Syler shuddered to think of what Growald had gone through in the past that caused him to foresee needing to wash the blood off of themselves. Two of the Sei remained at the gate to watch for trouble while the rest of them went inside and huddled around the water trough.


"Ladies," Growald addressed the women, "I suggest that you not go home, the Shalktra will look there first. You need to get out of here and try to find others of your kin. One of my men will stay behind and notify any of your husbands should you wish to let them know what happened to you."


"I am the daughter of a clan leader," one of the women said, "my father was killed, but I still receive the respect he once had. If you can get us out of the city, I will be willing to take any who wish to follow me to Jotadora. We will receive sanctuary there and our people will hide use from the Haresu."


Growald nodded and gestured to several packs bunched up next to a wall. "Take some of those, they have food and water in them to help you on your journey."


All but one of the women wanted to go with her. The remaining woman refused to leave the unconscious women whom she claimed was a friend from her village. Growald pointed to one of his men and said, "This is Thonathas. He will remain behind here to assist you and tell your families of your fates. Give him your names and where you live and he will make sure they are contacted when it is safe." He looked at the two women who were remaining, "Stay with him, he will watch you as best as he can until she wakes. He will try to get you out of the city if he can, but neither of us make any promises."


Syler was surprised that he had planned assistance for these Kuti women. He had figured that the Seinari was only helping Syler because he wanted to get into the Temple and kill a bunch of Easterners. That he had the forethought to prepare food for the women and had a man willing to tell their husbands and families of their fates painted the man in a very different light.


Syler didn't hear the rest of the conversation because he was focused on Bronwyn. She had remained a bit behind and was staring at the ground while nursing her arm. He went to the trough get a couple of rags and to fill a small pot he had seen in a corner with water. On his way over to Bronwyn, one of the women stopped him. With a glance over to where Bronwyn sat, she said, "I was in the cell next to hers. They put me through hell with beatings, torture, and rape, but what they put her through was beyond what any person should have to endure. She got everything we did, but worse. She looks bad on the outside, but I fear her mind is where the most damage was done. I think they used magic on her because I would hear one of them priests in there with her for hours and she screamed even though I didn't hear them beating or having their way with her. Occasionally, I could see flashes of light during those times and it sent chills up my back. Take care of her well, friend, but don't expect a quick recovery."


Upon hearing that news, the anger that had been slowly leaving him since their escape rapidly returned. His blood turned hotter than molten iron and almost wanted to go back and try to kill more of those monsters. None of these women had done anything to deserve what they received. He thanked the woman for the information and turned away so she couldn't see his revulsion and fury that reddened his face.


Before he could go to Bronwyn, he had to force himself to calm down and think of the future that was now in his grasp. By tonight, if all went well, he would finally be on his way back to his sister with the woman he loved at his side. Together, they would leave the Angvardi behind and live a life of peace and happiness. When he was at last calm, he walked over to where Bronwyn was standing in a daze and led her to a distant corner where he could allow her to preserve what little modesty she had left.


She sat when he guided her, but when he tried to get a closer look at her arm, she jerked back. "It is okay, Bronwyn, let me see it," he said softly.


She relented and allowed him to look at the cut running down her arm. It wasn't deep, but clearly had been painful. Already, the bleeding had mostly stopped and blood was only oozing. It needed to be dressed, as did the cut running down her chest. He went and got a wet rag and brought it to her, but she didn't even acknowledge him.


With gentle care, he cleaned the cut on her arm as best as he could and started wiping the blood off of her face and other arm. Throughout it, she didn't say anything or react, she just stared into nothing. She had been quiet and withdrawn back in the Temple, but she had at least been alert and responsive. It was though that now they were away and the adrenaline was wearing off, she was fading into nothing. He didn't want to push her after what she had been through, but if she didn't come out of it soon, they would not be able to travel.


"Bronwyn," he said quietly, "someone needs to clean the cut on your chest. Do you want to do it yourself, or would you like me to?" She merely nodded slightly leaving him unsure as to what she wanted him to do. He asked again, but she didn't respond.


When she made no move to do it herself, he slowly and carefully took the Shalktra guard's shirt off. She didn't resist, but simply allowed him to pull it over her head and let him guide her arms through the sleeves. He knelt down beside her so he could look at the cut. It, like the one on her arm, was not too deep. It ran from the bottom of her throat down between her breasts and ending just below her belly button. The torturer knew what he was doing and had worked to inflict pain but not to put her life in danger. Nonetheless, if it wasn't tended, it would get infected and fester then it could kill her. He had some poultices in the packs he concealed outside of town that would help heal them and keep the infection away. For now, he needed clean as much of the dirt and grime of three day's captivity away.


As he did, he was able to get a good look at her condition. Even in the slowly dimming light of the early evening, he could see that she was absolutely filthy. What wasn't covered in dried blood seemed to be covered in dirt, excrement, or some other unidentified filth. As carefully as he could, he washed her back, shoulders, neck, and uncut right arm. Occasionally, Bronwyn would wince and pull back when he hit a particularly sore spot, but she mostly sat there and endured his ministrations. What his efforts revealed was that not all of the dark spots on her body were from dirt or blood. Truthfully, few of them were. She was covered in bruises, both fresh and a few days old. All along her back and sides were welts, some of which had formed open sores. Where there weren't welts, the skin was rubbed raw and torn where she had pressed up against the harsh stone wall probably trying to get away from whoever was causing her harm. Her wrists were rubbed raw from the cuffs. Her neck had clear marks from where someone had been grabbing her throat with such strength that he could count the individual fingers.


As he saw what had been done to her in detail, he had difficulty holding back the tears. His anger still remained, but it was joined by pity and sympathy, as well as anguish over the knowledge that if he had worked faster and finished the damned lamp holder earlier, he could have spared her some of this suffering. He couldn't even say any words of comfort to her due to the lump in his throat.


When he finally worked his way to her front and started cleaning her chest, breasts, and stomach, what he found was worse. Her breasts were practically one giant bruise where someone had manhandled her without mercy. The cut running down her center might not be lethal, but it would leave a permanent scar to remind her forever what had happened to her. She would never be able to escape what was done to her. Her stomach was covered in what looked like oddly shaped burns. He dared not look any lower than her stomach for fear he would vomit in disgust at what injuries and abuse he would find.


He could no longer contain the tears and allowed them to freely flow down his face. It hurt him so much to see her like this, so abused and used up. She was innocent and had never harmed anyone. The barbarians had come for her because of something she was born with and did unspeakable things to her for no reason other than that they could. He could tell by the marks on her body that many were not done during an interrogation, but were done simply to humiliate and denigrate her. They didn't just want information, they wanted to completely break her.


The last thing he cleaned was her face. It was bruised like the rest of her, but was surprisingly intact. He had expected worse damage to have been done to her face, but apparently her torturers were busy focusing on other areas. Her lip was split in two places and one of her eyes was black and slightly swollen, but beyond that, there were only a few bruises. He wiped off her face and tried to smile to encourage her despite his own tears, but he didn't think it helped any.


After he had finished and placed some clean cloth over the worst of her injuries as best as he could, he helped her put her shirt back on and returned the rag and pot to the trough. He stayed there long enough to hear Growald tell everyone that it was probably best they wait for night to try to escape the city and send Havert to out try to get some fresh clothes for them. It wouldn't do for them to continue running around in torn and blood soaked clothing, and a few of the women barely had scraps of cloth scavenged from the dead to clothe themselves. He thought that it was risky to have any of them wandering around and vulnerable to capture, but that wasn't his business. Growald was in charge here, not him.


He walked back to where he had left Bronwyn and just sat next her in silence offering whatever support his presence would give her. Bronwyn looked at him and started crying softly. "I am sorry, Syler," she said.


He tried to put the best smile on his face as he could despite the emotions that were running through his mind and said, "For what? You have done nothing wrong."


"I should have stopped them, should have fought more, but I couldn't." The expression on her face was so pitiful, it nearly broke Syler's heart.


"You were imprisoned, chained to a wall, there was nothing you could do."


She shook her head and fresh tears rolled down her cheeks, "I told them everything they wanted to know, I betrayed myself and you."


Syler frowned, "What do you mean? What would they care about me?"


"They wanted to know about my kvastat, I tried to resist, but then they”¦" she swallowed hard and fell silent.


Syler took her hands in his and said softly, "I don't need to know, Bronwyn. You don't need to say it. They did unspeakable things to you and we killed as many of them as we could."


She didn't seem to take much comfort from that, but she did continue, "They wanted to know about all of my kvastat, but when I told them about the ones with you in them, they seemed to get excited. They questioned me for hours about everything I knew about you. When I ran out of things to tell them, they continued to torture me. I don't know what they did, but it hurt so badly I felt like my mind was about to explode. They didn't even touch me, they just sat there and made silly gestures in the air. Sometimes they would chant the in the most horrible voices saying things in a tongue I have never heard before."


"They used magic on you," Syler said. "Magic is very powerful, I don't blame you for telling them everything. I doubt anyone could have resisted their methods. Do you know why they were so interested in your visions?"


She began sobbing in great heaves now and shaking her head back and forth, "No, they would never say, they just kept asking questions. I should have tried to kill myself before telling them anything."


He put his arm around her being careful not to hit any of the obviously tender spots and said, "Hey now, none of that. I don't want to ever hear you say something like that. You survived and held on so I could rescue you. Bronwyn, I love you and I won't let anything happen to you again."


"Don't make promises you can't keep, Syler Penion," she said between sobs. "You don't know what will happen. They want you for some reason. I don't know what it is, but they want you badly. It will never be safe for us here."


"I know, that is why we aren't going to stay here in Kut. We are going to Sandrin in the Sei. I want to find my sister, then we are going to start traveling west and won't stop until we are across the Metles. After that, we are going to find some unexplored land hidden away from everyone else and stay there forever."


She smiled through her tears and said in a dreamy voice, "That sounds nice."


"I love you and am sorry that I didn't see it before, I was foolish and blind. I love you and would be happy to call you my wife forever," Syler said, hoping to get a response from her.


She didn't say anything, but just sat there in silence. He didn't know what that meant or what else to say. He would have thought that she would be happy for him to admit that, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe he had misread her feelings toward him entirely. He hoped that she was just still in shock after what happened and would come around later. If not, he didn't know what he would do.

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Yeah just realised I missed a post. Just read it now and it all makes sense


I'm really enjoying this at the moment. The flow is good, the pace feels right, and you've got some fantastic characters building up, and strong plotlines.

Member of Jnet Addict Club 12/05

Order of the Nocturnal


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I am glad you are enjoying it. Honestly, I have gotten past the sort of awkward introductory part and have a far better feel of my characters. I am more comfortable writing them and have solidified more of the plot in my head than was already there. Plus, now that I am out of school, I have the time and desire to write and am cranking out a TON of stuff far faster than before.


I started this novel on August 8. From August 8 to November 21 (three and a half months), I wrote five chapters and the prequel for a total of 29,638 words. Since that time, a little more than a month and a half, I have written another eight chapters for a total of 52,183 words and am writing more even tonight. My muses have kicked in and I am really enjoying writing. It is consuming my free time now and I am thinking more and more of plots and everything. I hope I can keep this up because I am looking for a LOT more material. I have only gotten to probably the first quarter of what I planned to be the first novel. Obviously, I am going to either be producing a monster novel or will have to split what was going to be two books into three.

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Very well, since you asked, I shall deliver. I have posted enough just for Ami, I think you deserve a post just for you. I still have another section for this chapter and am most of the way through the next, so you are still have a bit to go before catching up to me.









Chapter 13


For the One to come to full realization, he must first do that which cannot be undone.

Four lives shall he take: one in defense, one in anger, one in combat, and one in revenge.

With the sound of thunder and the shaking of the earth, his gifts shall be awakened.


”” Prophecy of Dolgoh, currently in the private library of Uthas of Ravest


Storage Yard

Village of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


Syler remained with Bronwyn for another fifteen minutes hoping she would say something more. When it was clear she was not going to say anything, he got up and walked over to where Growald was conferring with Tald. When he approached, the sergeant motioned him forward with a gesture of his hand and gave him a grim smile. "Welcome, my friend. Today was a glorious day indeed, and we have you to thank for most of it."


"How is it glorious?" Syler asked.


"The women were freed, as you wished. Every one of them was given a second chance even if some of them were too shortsighted to do the smart thing. We killed many of the Shalktra and those damn pagan priests to boot. The Easterners will not be able to easily explain this away, that is, if they decide to tell anyone. My money is on that they will quietly hide the battle and pretend it didn't happen. That is why Thonathas will be quietly spreading word of what we did here long after we have left."


Syler buried his face in his palms and shook his head in sadness. "Look at your men, Growald. See how few of them came out. You went in with two score men, yet only ten returned. The women have been brutalized and will live with the scars of what happened to them there forever." His face began to redden and he had to fight to keep his voice down. "This day should have never happened, it is a disgrace that it ever did."


Syler expected Growald to grow angry at him, but instead, the older man simply chuckled and said, "You have much to learn of the ways of the world, my boy." There wasn't anger or even reproach in what he said, just the tone of a teacher to his pupil. "The world is a cruel place full of death and suffering. I have fought many wars in places you could not imagine in your darkest of dreams. I have been to places that make those dungeons look like paradise. I have seen women and children and old men spread out upon the ground with their innards surrounding them. I have seen mountains of severed heads with buzzards swarming in all directions looking for a nice juicy eye that hadn't already been plucked. I have heard the screams of men as they hold their stomach in with one hand while trying to avoid being hacked to pieces with their other.


"No, young Syler Penion, today wasn't a disgrace. Today was an example of life. Today was an example of how the strong defend the weak. Today was an example of true evil in this world being punished. You are a man who needs to learn that the world doesn't operate on the basis of what you think should happen, it is a world that operates on the basis of the strong taking from the weak. There are all too few of the strong who want to protect the weak and defend freedom and mercy. Numerous are the hordes of those who want domination and power, few are the ranks of those who would fight so that the weak may live in safety and freedom flourish."


Syler had never considered Growald to be a man of philosophy, but neither had he thought the gruff man would care about Kuti women. Today was turning out to be a day full of surprises, in more ways than one. He didn't agree with him, but it was food for thought and he was not ashamed to admit that. "I will consider what you said."


"That is all I can hope for, Syler," said Growald as he patted Syler on the shoulder. "You are young and this is only your second battle. You proved yourself a true warrior today, I only hope that you continue to grow as a force for good and righteousness in this dark world."


"How long are we going to wait here?" Syler asked. "The Angvardi surely have sealed off the city by now and are on the lookout for us. Maybe we should have moved quicker to get out of the city instead of stopping here."


Growald looked pleased that Syler was asking questions and showing an interest. "You would be right except for a few things. The largest among them is that the Easterners, both Angvardi and Shalktra, need to keep this event as quiet as possible. They can't afford to let it be known that some of the supposedly 'Unified' citizens of this fine town were able to flood into their impregnable Temple and kill their beloved priests. If news like this gets out, it could inspire others to do the same.


"Second, because of that, they can't simply march down the streets going door to door. If they do, people will ask questions that the governor doesn't want to answer. They will be on the lookout, no doubt, but they will do so discreetly. Discreet means fewer numbers and we can handle small numbers much better than dozens of guards openly marching down the street with swords drawn and spears lowered.


"Third, because they can't mass in the town, they have to wait for us outside of it. That is a big area to cover. They won't be able to mass men quickly enough to completely control it. In the darkness, it would be much easier for us to slip through rather than during the evening when there is still daylight. Perhaps if we had been able to attack at night, we would have left quickly, but they wouldn't have let us into the Temple that late.


"Fourth, these women can't travel. They have been brutally tortured and deprived of food and water for days. If we had forced them to flee with us, they would have either slowed us down to the point where we got captured or we would have to abandon most of them.


"Fifth and finally, we won't be just running out of here on foot. Part of my plan has always been to strike at the enemy's ability to rapidly move around on a moment's notice just in case we were ever found out and had to flee in a rush. To that end, I have several people””not Sei””who work in some of the stables, who will help us. We won't be running out of here, we will be riding out of here on the Easterner's own horses."


"Why would you tell me this?" Syler asked.


Growald leaned in and replied in the same strange voice he had heard him use a few times before. Though it was barely above a whisper, it served to send tingles down his back. "Because you need to learn." He stepped back and in his usual tone, added, "You cannot simply walk into a battle without planning for how to get out. Did you really think that you could barge into their Temple, free your woman, then go about your merry way? No, boy, you must plan and have a strategy to escape. You must learn how to use your brain to think ahead. If you don't, you will only get yourself and many, many more killed. You may be no seer, but you are plenty capable of planning."


"I don't think now is the time for lectures."


"You don't have time to wait for later. You came to me offering a way into the enemy's lair, but you didn't care enough to find a way out. You were focused in your own loss and anger instead of considering what you would do after. Had you been in charge, we all would have died."


"I did make plans," said Syler tartly. "I have provisions hidden outside the city. I was going to take Bronwyn and the two of us were going to leave here."


Growald threw his hands up then pointed out at where Bronwyn was still staring in a daze, "Do you mean that Bronwyn? The one that cannot move much less travel? If you take her out into the countryside on foot, she will die."


"I didn't expect her to be””"


"Of course you didn't, and that is my point, boy. You focused your sight too much and forgot the bigger picture. You cannot do that, you must start learning to see the bigger picture. If you don't, more than just you and your pretty girl will suffer."


"I don't have to do anything but get away from here," said Syler through clenched teeth.


That statement was met with laughter that sounded genuinely amused rather than angry or condescending like he expected. "You have no idea what the future will hold for you, do you boy?" he said between quick bouts of laughter. "If this situation weren't so serious, the irony of that statement would be worthy an entire sonnet."


"I don't need to take this anymore, do whatever you want to do, but count me out of whatever you have planned."


The laughter stopped as abruptly as it had began, "Don't be stupid, boy. I can tolerate your ignorance, but your stubbornness and stupidity are not acceptable."


"You don't have to 'tolerate' anything, Growald." Syler was in absolutely no mood to be talked down to nor did he want to mess with the sergeant's antics.


"Watch your tone, boy. You are strong, but you are not yet a match for me." Growald's face had reddened and his eyes seemed to have sunken into their sockets.


Syler was not going to back down, his anger hadn't been able to completely die down and being toyed with by this bully was only encouraging it. After what he had just seen done to Bronwyn, he wanted something, anything, to lash out at and right now, Growald's bearded face looked like a very inviting target. "Don't forget what happened last time we fought."


"I didn't forget, boy. I don't care who you are, there is a limit to how far I will be pushed." Little specks of spittle were flying from Growald's mouth as he spoke.


"Then keep out of my path, Growald. I have no desire to cross paths with you, but if you get in my way, I will go right through you."


"My, how your single victory has made you cocky. I don't know if I am cursed or blessed to be stuck here with you, but until you learn a lot more about fighting and being a man, you are nothing but a waste of time."


"That is it," Syler's fury said. He lost control of his own body and launched himself at the larger man for the second time. Growald met him with his fists and they began to brawl.


* * * * *


Temple of Kubei

Village of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


Uthas, governor and lord over the province of Kut, walked dispassionately by the bodies of the slain on his way to far more important things. The Temple had not yet been cleared and blood coated many of its once beautiful walls. It didn't bother him to see the mangled bodies because they were but pawns. There was only slight anger over the defiling of a Temple by the feet of the unbelievers, but that paled in comparison to the greater picture.


With him was his trusted mage and advisor, Melthorin, and two mage acolytes whose names were not important enough for him to be bothered with. They had traveled from his mansion to the Temple after it was secured by the enraged Shalktra survivors. Their leader had demanded to know why his guard hadn't supported them, a question to which he simply pointed out that his men had outnumbered the rebels and had only themselves to blame for being caught unawares. That wouldn't end the Terulan's anger, but it did give him pause.


Now, they were climbing up the stairs in the center of the tower. A few bodies littered their path, but he stepped over them without a second thought. Their goal was the roof, the pinnacle of the Temple which construction he had personally overseen.


Once there, he barred the trap door making sure that the four of them wouldn't be interrupted. The magnificent lamp that was to be put here tonight wasn't present, but he wouldn't need its power tonight. They had other means with which to focus his energy.


The acolytes went to work without a word while Uthas looked out over his city. It wasn't very large yet, but in time, it would grow to house hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. It would become the capital of a new empire, one that would never see an end and that would cover all the lands of the world. This empire had started today with the blood that had been shed within the very tower that he now stood upon. That blood would seal the pure power of this site forever.


"My lord," one of the acolytes said. "We are ready."


He nodded and walked to the center of the tower. There, he began summoning the power of Tantis, Giver of Magic, to his will. Here, at the pinnacle of the Temple, the power that normally flowed here was almost intoxicating even when not active. When he drew it from its source, the power nearly blinded him with its strength.


There would be a time when he would unleash all of the power that he had focused on this spot, but for now, he needed only a small portion of it. With ancient and profane words, he prepared his spell and focused it on his target. The Master of Magic might be beyond his reach now, but those whom he valued were not. He didn't want the One dead, not until he finished his tasks, but neither did he want the One too strong to defeat.


The prophecies said that the Master of Magic would be consumed by fury and righteous wrath and that through it, he would save them from the Coming Darkness. Uthas had considered many ways in which he could help bring forth prophecy and while he was at a loss for much of it, there were things he knew well how to do. Inflicting pain on people until they were furious beyond reason was one of those gifts.


He clearly cared enough about the seer woman the Shalktra had captured, and that was enough to warrant Uthas' own personal response. He wanted to leave Syler Penion unable to find peace and constantly on edge. Without calm, he would be nothing more than a weapon to use against the Coming Darkness and not capable of thinking for himself. In his blind rage, he would fulfill his destiny and yet, pose no threat to Uthas after it was finished.


The spell was prepared, the target was locked in, all that remained was for him to release the spell. He did, and with great pleasure. Pain, pestilence, suffering, and eventually servitude would forever consume the seer's life. She would never escape the spell and would suffer far worse than she had when he had personally tortured her very soul in the dungeons. In the end, the One would have to choose whether to let her live in anguish or if he would give her the mercy of death.


If Uthas was lucky, the choice would drive him mad with blind fury, all packaged up and ready to use against the Coming Darkness but enough to leave him a spent husk after.

Edited by Guest
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Interesting to see the change in the relationship between Syler and Growald in such a short space of time. I still think there is something more to Growald then meets the eye.


Not much to add though, except to say more please.

Member of Jnet Addict Club 12/05

Order of the Nocturnal


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Whoa...two posts in one day...that took a long time to catch up on!


Alright, crit:


From the first one--


Syler shuttered to think of what Growald had gone through in the past


Shuddered, not shuttered.


Sometimes they would chant the in the most horrible voices saying things in a tongue I have never heard before."


You need quotation marks at the beginning of this.


Good section--good detail and good characterization.


From the second post, we have crit with a theme!


admit that, "I will consider what you said."


Should be a period, not a comma.


I have provisions hidden outside the city, I was going to take Bronwyn and the two of us were going to leave here


Run-on sentence. Chance the comma to a period.


"If it weren't so serious, it would be worthy an entire sonnet."


?? Are you missing a word here? Doesn't make sense.


"Watch your tone, boy, you are strong, but you are not yet a match for me."


Should be a period after boy, not a comma.


there is a limit to how far I will be pushed," little specks of spittle were flying


Period, new sentence with little.


advisor, Melthorin and two mage acolytes


Need a comma after Melthorin.


power of Tantis, Giver of Magic to his will.


Need a comma after magic.


The only other thing I noticed was that Syler's conversation with Growald seems a bit out of character for him. He's not usually that rude, even with someone he doesn't really like. Yeah, I get that he's upset and angry and such, but he should be feeling better now that Bronwyn and the others are free, and it would take a lot for someone to stay that angry for that long. He's not the type that goes around initiating fights with people he doesn't actually have a quarrel with.


So I thought his bullheadedness and simmering anger was out of character for him. At least at this point in the novel...the magician's spell on Bronwyn is horrible! I hope that Syler can learn enough about magic to break it.


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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Interesting to see the change in the relationship between Syler and Growald in such a short space of time.

Well, they pretty much hate each other and will for quite some time.


I still think there is something more to Growald then meets the eye.

Really, why would you say that?

(wait until you read the next section and you will really start thinking)



Sometimes they would chant the in the most horrible voices saying things in a tongue I have never heard before."

You need quotation marks at the beginning of this.

Wait, no I don't, what I need to do is get rid of the extra line there. That was a mistake in the translation over to this site when I have to go back through and add an extra line between paragraphs. In the original, it was a part of the paragraph above it.


?? Are you missing a word here? Doesn't make sense.

I have changed that sentence to the below sentence. Hope that is better.

"If this situation weren't so serious, the irony of that statement would be worthy an entire sonnet."


I have done as you pointed out for the rest of the errors and have edited it both in the master document and on here. Thanks for that, sometimes I get too in the moment and miss over it.


The only other thing I noticed was that Syler's conversation with Growald seems a bit out of character for him. He's not usually that rude, even with someone he doesn't really like. Yeah, I get that he's upset and angry and such, but he should be feeling better now that Bronwyn and the others are free, and it would take a lot for someone to stay that angry for that long. He's not the type that goes around initiating fights with people he doesn't actually have a quarrel with.

Hmm, I don't know. I thought I have established that neither of them really like each other, but simply tolerate the other when it suits them. Plus, as far as Syler not initiating fights, consider what he has just done. Not only has his wife been brutally, brutally tortured and raped, but he has killed men with his bare hands and in cold blood, he has been forced out of his home, his entire life has been uprooted, and Bronwyn is kinda in a funk right now and he doesn't know if she will recover. This is only about thirty minutes after the battle and his blood is still up. Then, he has a man he can't stand telling him he is a total fool and pretty much mocking his plans and even, in a way, his wife.


So I thought his bullheadedness and simmering anger was out of character for him.

So, in a way, you are right about that. He normally isn't that rude, but he has been through a lot in the last few days and will be a little bit pissy for a bit. Things will get better, though it will take a bit of time.





Anyway, next part:







* * * * *


Storage Yard

Village of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


An eerie wailing erupted from the empty storage yard and interrupted the fight that was going on therein. Syler's swing faltered causing him to hit only air and lose his balance. Growald's retaliatory strike failed to even gain momentum as his head snapped to where the noise was coming from. As soon as he regained his footing, Syler's gaze followed the sound and was shocked to see that it was coming from Bronwyn.


The normally quiet woman was writhing on the ground wailing in pain. Syler called out her name as he abandoned the fight and raced across the yard toward her. He didn't make it before a hand with the grip of steel locked onto his wrist and held on tight.


"Wait, boy," commanded Growald with such authority that Syler didn't immediately try to fight him.


Some of the others had run to Bronwyn and were trying to find out what was going on. She was in such a state that she couldn't speak, but tears were gushing from her eyes and she had turned a deep red. She began clawing at her own face and stomach and even managed to draw blood before some of the women held her arms around. "What is happening to her?" cried Syler.


Growald gestured to two of his men to hold Syler back before going to investigate himself. He cautiously approached the woman and put a piece of cloth in her mouth. "If she keeps screaming, we will be found out for sure," he said before Syler could protest. Being careful to avoid her kicking legs, he knelt beside her and touched her sweat covered forehead. She continued to try to scream through the gag as she looked up at him begging for relief.


"By the power of the Elements," he whispered after studying her. "It can't be!"


In a quick gesture, he grabbed Bronwyn's and ripped it in half. Syler cried out in anger and struggled against the two holding him, but Growald ignored him. The sergeant took a quick look at her exposed stomach and whirled around to yell at him, "You fool! Don't you know what this is!"


"What?" said Syler incredulously. "I have nothing to do with this."


"This is a spell mark," said Growald as he jabbed his finger down at Bronwyn. "Those burns, they make up a spell of pain and torture."


"I figured as much, they were using magic to torture her in the dungeons."


Growald looked as though he wanted to strangle Syler, but settled on balling is fists with exaggerated slowness. "No, that wasn't the worst part, that was just the application. This is the fulfillment of the spell. She has been cursed with unbearable pain from the one who put this mark on her. If the caster is strong enough or cruel enough, it may never go away. She will forever be in this agony."


Syler's jaw dropped. "Why would anyone do this to her?"


Growald shot an ugly glance back at him, "Why do you think? Someone fears her and wants her to suffer." He looked down at Bronwyn with his brows furrowed in concentration. "Stop playing ignorant, Syler, we both know she is a seer, the one that the Shalktra were seeking."


"What can we do?" Syler asked as he continued to struggle against the men holding him. He nearly broke free, but they were able to hold him back.


For several seconds, Growald didn't reply, but kept looking down at Bronwyn's writhing. "'We' can do anything, but you might be able to," he said at last.


"I will do anything, just tell me what," cried Syler. He couldn't bear seeing her in this much pain.


"If you are what I suspect you are, then go to her, comfort her." He gestured for his men to release Syler.


As soon as he was free, Syler fell to the ground beside her and cradled her head in his lap. As soon as he touched her, she let out a deep breath and collapsed. For a moment, Syler thought she was dead and feared check. When he did look down at her face, she was staring back up at him with a gratitude that needed no words. Now that she wasn't struggling, the women let go of her arms and pulled out the gag in her mouth. She lifted her bandaged left arm and gently stroked Syler's face. She seemed distant and drowsy even compared to her recent state.


"Paint me green and slap me silly," Growald said with a low whistle. "It worked."


"What worked?" asked Syler.


Growald merely grunted and shook his head incredulously. "You really don't know, do you? As I said, ignorance. No bother, you will find out soon enough, it is not my place to do everything for you."


Syler frowned, "What is it that I don't know? I thought you said this would never go away."


"It shouldn't have, but apparently you have the magic touch. That is all I can say right now, it appears that Havert is back with news and company."


Syler heard Havert's voice saying in a quiet yell, "What in Chaos was going in here? We heard the biggest ruckus I ever done hear from a block away!"


Growald gave the redhead a look that could have boiled water and gestured for him to drop the subject. "Why did you bring Alltis here?" he asked, clearly hoping to get off the subject of the noise.


"You are mad to think I wouldn't go with my husband," she replied for him. "I have food and supplies. When Havert told me there were people who had been hurt, I brought all the clean cloth I could find for bandages."


The rest of them began to distribute the bandages from the large packs they were wearing. Syler paid them little heed, but turned his attention back to Bronwyn. He folded her torn shirt over her body and held her good hand. She was still glassy eyed, but she seemed to be more aware of what was going on now. "Your face is bleeding," she whispered. She sounded like she had spent too much time with too many glasses of ale, but at least she was speaking again.


Syler touched the side of his head where the Shalktra had hit him with his sword hilt and noticed that it had indeed started bleeding again. Apparently, he had broken the scab in his aborted fight with Growald. "I will be fine. How are you?"


"I have never hurt so much before," she said. "First, it was like fire in my stomach. Then, I could feel ants under my skin burrowing and causing pain. I felt acid poured over my body, burning it and leaving me exposed to even more pain. My skin was being stabbed with needles and my head felt like it would explode from the pressure. I don't know what you did, but the pain suddenly left when you held me."


"I don't know what I did, but I aim to find out," said Syler.


"Thank you," she murmured and closed her eyes.


Syler sat there while the others made last minute plans and divided out clothes. Alltis approached the two of them silently and put a hand on Syler's shoulder. "I heard what happened to her, both in the tower and here," she said solemnly. "I cannot say how sorry I am for both of you. I know you loved each other, this has got to be very, very hard on you both."


Syler appreciated the sentiment. "It is, but we will make it through this. We leave tonight, so I guess this is goodbye."


She cocked her head, "I don't see why that has to be. Havert and I are going wherever you are."


Syler arched an eyebrow, "Why would you do that? Even if you have to leave, you would be safer with Growald because he has men and experience."


"Neither of us could leave you on your own with Bronwyn in the condition she is in," she sounded almost insulted. "Besides, both of us care for the two of you quite a bit. I know my friendship with you doesn't go as far back as Havert's, but I care about you both. We would have gone with you even had she been in perfect health. That was always the plan from the moment Growald told us of your plan."


"I appreciate the support and I know Bronwyn would too."


Growald interrupted by throwing Syler a change of clothes. "Time to go. There are guards eyeing this street and I am not all that confident that nobody heard the girl's screaming."


Syler nearly said something, but he was too emotionally drained right now to care. He grabbed the clothes and looked for a place to change. There wasn't much privacy here, but Alltis took the hint and focused on making Bronwyn comfortable. Once he was finished changing, he found a shirt and some loose pants for Bronwyn, as well as another wet rag.


"Speed is of the essence," Growald was saying over near the gate. "Our friends in the stables will be able to create a diversion for us, but we are going to have to move quickly or we will have guards on us. Take only what you can carry, but if there are extra horses, we need to either take them with us or handicap them so the Haresu don't use them to follow."


"Syler, come quickly!" Alltis called out. Even before he could get there, Bronwyn began kicking and screaming.


"What happened?" he asked. "I thought I fixed this!" As soon as he grabbed her hand, she relaxed once more into quiet moans. She seemed to have faded into a sort of deep sleep and wasn't waking. She was breathing, though, but that was the only sign of life within her. "Not good," he said. Whatever this spell is, I don't think I can leave her unattended for long."


"I think you are right," Alltis agreed.


He looked angrily over at where Growald was looking out through the gate and said, "I think he knows more than he is telling us. I don't know how, but something is not right about him."


Alltis frowned, "Why do you say that?"


"He seems to know things and I don't know where he learned them. He also sometimes says strange things that make no sense. Keep an eye on him, I don't trust him."


"Don't say anything to Havert unless you have to," she warned. "He adores the man and wouldn't respond well."


"I know, that is why I haven't said anything. Thank you, Alltis, for everything you have done for us. It means a lot, it really does."


She nodded and blushed slightly, "You are my husband's best friend. Even if you two dispute sometimes, he sees you as the only family he has other than his father and I. If that is how he feels, then that is how I feel."


Syler gave her a quick pat on the shoulder, then handed her the clothes and rag. "I was able to clean most of her, but I would appreciate if you could get her into these clothes and finish what I couldn't. I don't think she would want me doing that."


Alltis looked confused for a moment, then caught on to what he was saying. "But she is your wife, surely. . ."


"She may be my wife in name," Syler said after her voice faded away, "but I have not taken her in that way."


"Why, I thought you loved her?"


Syler looked down in embarrassment, "I do, but it took losing her to the Shalktra to realize it. At first, though, I didn't and would never have forced myself upon her."


She shook her head in bewilderment, "No wonder she looked so uncomfortable whenever we asked if she was with child. I think I understand, but it is a surprise to me." She looked at him and said firmly, "I will clean and change her, but don't go far because the pain will return."


"I don't plan on going anywhere," Syler assured her. He took Bronwyn's hand and turned his back while Alltis did what she had to do.


When she was done, he helped her put on Bronwyn's new shirt, but he couldn't help but notice how pale she was. "I know what they did to her," he said. "I am sorry you had to see it."


"Monsters," was all she could say before getting up and walking away. Syler was stroked Bronwyn's cheek tenderly when he heard Alltis throwing up several yards away. Havert came over to check on his wife and they had a short but quiet conversation. When he left to rejoin Growald's group, his face was red and his jaw clenched.


At last, it was time to go. Growald was growing impatient and it was dark. As carefully as he could, Syler picked Bronwyn's unconscious form up and carried her. They had no cart or anything to move her with because Havert was forced to leave it outside the Temple when they made their attack, so he would have to carry her the entire distance. He didn't mind, though, there was no way he was going to let someone else do it, and it meant that he was still touching her and keeping her pain at bay.


They didn't make it very far before running into trouble. Two Angvardi guards spotted them and ran off. Growald told them all to make a run for the stables before the guards could report their location. By the time they made it to the stables on the edge of town, Syler was more than winded. Carrying Bronwyn that distance wouldn't have been much of a problem except for being forced to run with her. That left him exhausted, but he would not stop or slow down.


They were met at the stables by two men who seemed to know Growald. After a quick exchange, they ran off to start whatever diversion they needed to make. Growald motioned for them to get inside and start picking out their horses. If there were any guards there protecting the stables, they were nowhere to be seen. Syler did catch a small spot of fresh blood on his way in, but said nothing.


There was no question in his mind that he would have to take Bronwyn with him on one horse, but that would mean they had to be careful not to tire it out. Havert and Alltis were going to each take on of their bags to help lighten the load as much as possible, but it would be a dangerous trip. Once he got on his horse, Havert helped him lift the unconscious Bronwyn up and get her settled in front of him. Keeping her dead weight up would be tiresome, but they had no choice until she woke up. Syler wasn't the best with horses, but he had ridden them a few times and felt confident that he could manage.


Growald was already on his horse urging it forward as two of his men opened the gates. As soon as the rest of them were ready, he led the charge out. The sound of more than two dozen horses at full gallop would not be easily missed, but stealth wasn't an issue now, speed was.


They made it down the block to the edge of town without an issue, but after that was where the trouble started. They weren't a hundred yards from the last house when they heard horses and shouts of alarm around them. The Angvardi had spotted them and were already in pursuit.


As soon as they crested a small hill, they saw two groups of lights, each perhaps a dozen strong, headed toward them. Syler now knew where most of the Angvardi had been: they had been out on patrol. They had men in front of them and behind them, all on horses. It seemed like Growald's plan wasn't working out quite like he wanted it to.


"We have to split up!" Growald yelled. "Some of us might make it through!"


Syler wasn't sure if he agreed, but he didn't have any choice. In groups of two and three, the group began to break apart. Oddly, the Kuti women seemed more confident than the Sei. Syler supposed they felt that they knew this land well enough to get out. He personally was terrified. All he had right now to defend both him and Bronwyn was his sword, and that was hardly going to help him against a dozen soldiers. Even with Havert at his side, it wasn't good odds.


Havert, Alltis, and he broke off and started their own escape. Syler noticed that the two of them took up position behind him slightly to each side and let him take the lead. He didn't know why because he wasn't all that much of an expert, but it didn't matter right now. He spotted a small dried out ravine that might offer them some cover and guided his horse down it. With only moonlight, it was hard to guide the horses for anything, so he mostly let them lead themselves as they could see better in the dark.


The ravine led them through a twisted route roughly away from Kubei. They slowed their horses down to a trot so they could hear better. If the Angvardi were bearing down upon them, Syler wanted some warning. Eventually, the ravine gave way to some of the rolling hills that the Kuti territory was known for. They didn't see or hear anyone else, so Syler began to relax. He wasn't sure how far they were from Kubei, but he thought it was several miles at least.


They continued on for a little while longer in silence, but after a while, Syler couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. He had been pushing himself too hard over the last three days at the forge and this had been a long and stressful day. A glance over at Havert told him that he was feeling the same. Only Alltis looked like she was alert and able to go on.


"Okay, we need to rest," he said aloud. It was the first thing they had said in an hour.


"I couldn't agree with ya more," replied Havert.


"Have either of you heard anything?"


"No, I haven't," Alltis said.


"Same here, I think we lost 'em."


Syler looked around to find an area where they could stop to sleep. There wasn't much here, just rolling hills with grasses and a few small shrubs. Shelter wasn't going to be found, so they would have to spend the night exposed to the elements. It wasn't very cold out, but it would be uncomfortable without a fire, and they didn't dare build one with pursuit nearby.


"This looks as good a place as any," said Syler after a couple of minutes. They were at the bottom of three hills which would help block their silhouette and offer limited shelter from the wind. He heard no disagreement, so he slowed his horse to a stop.


Havert helped him get Bronwyn off the horse and lay her on a thick blanket that Alltis laid out for her. Syler proceeded to tie the reins of their mounts to a nearby bush that looked sturdy enough to keep them in place. It was the first time that he hadn't been in contact with Bronwyn since they left the storage yard. He knew it was a risk, but he wanted to see if prolonged contact with her would allow her to be away from him for longer than last time.


He sat down on the blanket next to Bronwyn and stared at her beautifully passive face. Though he knew it was marred by bruises, there wasn't enough light for him to see them. Her face looked just perfect the way it was in the moonlight. He stayed there while Havert and Alltis got their own blankets out and rummaged through their supplies for something to eat. Syler regretted that they weren't able to collect the two packs he had left last night, but there had been no time. Now, they were stuck with whatever little food that Alltis had managed to bring.


He heard moans from below him and realized that the pain was returning to Bronwyn. Even in unconsciousness, there was no escaping it. Her face contorted as she began to curl up in agony. Syler let out a sigh and reached over to grab her hand. Despite being in contact with her for two hours straight, the pain had returned after about the same time. As before, as soon as he touched her, the pain faded away and she relaxed.


Havert volunteered to take the first watch, a proposition to which Syler had no problems accepting. He could barely keep his eyes open and needed at least a few hours of sleep. He made the redhead promise to wake him after a couple of hours then set out to get ready for bed.


After eating some flatbread and drinking some water that Alltis gave him, he grabbed a thick blanket from Havert's saddlebag and spread it out over Bronwyn. Without hesitation, he settled down and pulled her close to him.

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Hmmm...I don't know if Uthas predicted that. Being in constant contact with Bronwyn is much better than there being nothing Syler can do for her. Of course, it will make things much more difficult for him, especially if there is a fight or whatever. Out of curiosity, you said that she lasted about the same amount of time between contact and pain, but didn't specify about how long that was. Is it about 5 minutes?


Two typos:


With a quick gesture, he grabbed Bronwyn's and ripped it in half.


You really need to put that word back in...I didn't think you meant he ripped Bronwyn in half, but with Syler's cry of anger afterward it was just too much.


he said. Whatever this spell is,


You missed the quotation marks there.


I cringed when he said "I think we lost 'em", because if that's not one of those things to avoid saying at any cost, then I'm a yeti. But it seems he was right, at least for now.


Looking forward to more! I'm glad Alltis and Havert are with them, although traveling while pregnant is going to be increasingly hard on Alltis.


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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Hmmm...I don't know if Uthas predicted that. Being in constant contact with Bronwyn is much better than there being nothing Syler can do for her.

No, he did not. When he finds out that his spell failed, he won't be happy, but that won't be for some time. Remember, few know exactly what it really means to be the Master of Magic.


Out of curiosity, you said that she lasted about the same amount of time between contact and pain, but didn't specify about how long that was. Is it about 5 minutes?

3-4 minutes, yes.


You really need to put that word back in...I didn't think you meant he ripped Bronwyn in half, but with Syler's cry of anger afterward it was just too much.

Oops, yea, I had to do some editing while working in that entire section, so I think that accidentally got cut.


I cringed when he said "I think we lost 'em", because if that's not one of those things to avoid saying at any cost, then I'm a yeti. But it seems he was right, at least for now.

I know, but remember, these people don't have TV or movies to educate them on how bad that phrase can be.


Looking forward to more! I'm glad Alltis and Havert are with them, although traveling while pregnant is going to be increasingly hard on Alltis.

Alltis is a little more than a month and a half pregnant, I don't think that is going to pose a really big deal at this moment. Later, yes, but now, not so much.

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Okay, I am going to post the next section to get this moving. I am currently almost done with Chapter 16, so I still have some wiggle room.


I have a question: do you guys want me to post longer sections (around 5000-6000 words) or shorter ones like I have been (2000-3000 words)? I can go with whatever works best.


This part brings in Lamastus (no, I didn't forget about him) and gets things moving away from Kubei. It also introduces two new characters and revisits an old one while giving a little perspective on how others are going to react to Syler's realization (it will all be explained soon). I think that I am going to make it a habit to visit various minor characters at other places during "travel" sequences for Syler and Co. I am hoping it helps convey the passage of time as well as allowing readers to see more of what is going on in the world. Eventually, all of these smaller plotlines will converge and their characters will play their parts in Syler's tale.


Oh, note that I have changed the name of the Prophet's tower in Terula City to Estar since it seemed that the original name (Escargro) was too distracting. I have edited the earlier part in my original document, just not yet here.






Chapter 14


In response to numerous inquiries about the whereabouts of many of our beloved priests, Governor Uthas wishes to inform you that they have been sent to the Western Campaigns to help minister to our glorious armies. Their summons was urgent and they regretted that they could not say any goodbyes.


”” Official announcement from Governor Uthas' office in Kubei


Wilderness northwest of Kubei,

Angvardi Province of Kut


Syler felt like his head had barely touched his pillow when he was woken by something in the house. His body protested as he forced himself to open his eyes and look around. It was still dark outside, so he wondered why Bronwyn would be up this early. She often did rise a little earlier than he did, but this was too early even for her.


Then it hit him, they weren't at their house, but outside. He sat up abruptly and started scanning the moonlit countryside. He didn't see anyone around and that in and of itself wasn't right. Havert wasn't standing guard, but had fallen asleep near his wife's feet.


Another noise drew his attention to an area behind him. His heart began racing and he reached for his sword laying a few feet away. It might be only a rabbit, but the hairs rising on the back of his neck told him otherwise.


Before he could reach the sword, a hand grabbed him by his hair and he heard the whisper of metal on metal as a knife was drawn. He tried to react, but knew he wouldn't be quick enough. He tried to roll away, but his feet were tangled in the blankets that he had been sleeping in just moments earlier.


Then, there was a gurgle of noise from above him and the grip on his hair was released. He heard a thudding sound as a body hit the ground. He didn't know what happened, but he wasn't going to take another chance. He kicked the blankest off of him and dove for his sword. When he came back up to his feet, it was in his hands unsheathed and ready for battle.


"Syler, it's me," a familiar voice came from the darkness. "I'm not here to hurt you."


"Lamastus?" said Syler as he tried to peer into the darkness.


"Yes, my friend." Syler heard some movement and then the sound of a flint being used. A few sparks later and he had to shield his eyes from the glow of a small torch. When he could see, he saw that his Angvardi friend was knelt over the body of another man inspecting his handiwork. "That is three times I saved your life, you need to start repaying the favor, Syler."


"Put out the light," Syler said with a hiss.


"Relax, the rest of the riders have returned to the city by now. I would have been with them except I happened to see this guy peeling off from the main group."


Syler saw no reason not to believe him, so he made use of the light to find where Havert was sprawled out on the ground asleep. "Havert," he said with a kick to the other man's boot. "Get up you bum!"


With a snort, Havert moaned, "What is it dear?"


"What a fine watchman you made," said Syler with a little more venom than he meant. He was grumpy from lack of sleep and from yet another person trying to kill him. He kicked his boot again, harder this time and Havert realized it wasn't his wife. He sat up with wide eyes and asked, "What! What's going on?"


"You fell asleep," Syler informed him. "We were attacked and I was almost killed if it weren't for Lamastus here. Your carelessness put is all in danger!" By now, Alltis had woken up and was rubbing her eyes.


Leaving the two of them to wake up, Syler turned his attention back to Lamastus and asked, "What are you doing here?"


"Looking for you, of course," the Angvardi said with a grin. "I am almost hurt that you didn't ask for my help rescuing Bronwyn."


"What? Why would I have brought you in on that?"


"Well, now I am hurt," said Lamastus. He managed to sound convincingly enough pained that Syler didn't dismiss his reaction as a playful outburst. "I am your friend, Syler. Why would I want to help you any less than Havert here does?"


"Havert is a Sei and has been my friend pretty much all of my life," Syler pointed out. "You are an Angvardi soldier."


"That doesn't mean I am not capable of being a loyal friend," replied Lamastus.


"Why would you turn on your own people?" Syler asked.


With a snort of derision, Lamastus explained, "My own people turned on me. I cannot believe that Governor Uthas would allow what happened in that Temple to occur. It is an outrage against the Way and human decency. I tried all I could to convince Captain Sosar to go back a second time, but he was adamant that there was nothing he could do. I kept trying to get support from among the other guards, but they were too afraid of Uthas to act.


"Uthas kept us out on patrol watching the farmlands. He said that he was worried about Kuti raiders, but I am not entirely sure he just didn't want to keep us all apart and busy so we wouldn't organize in protest and cause problems. When word came to me that something had happened at the Temple and we were to keep a lookout for a group of Sei men and Kuti women, I suspected that you were involved. I ran to your house, but couldn't find you there and knew you were part of it.


"I couldn't help you escape the city because I couldn't find you. Like many of the others, I was sent to look for you, but had no luck. Then, you made your break and things got crazy. I jumped on a horse and headed off to find you and see if I couldn't help somehow. Once you broke up, it was chaos. The guards on patrol got confused by those of us from the city who didn't have torches. They mistook several of our own units as the rebels and chased them down. I think that helped most of your people to get through our lines and escape.


"I was about to give up when I saw a lone horseman going out into the night. I had hoped that it was one of your people and that he would lead me to you, but it turned out to be this man. He must have seen your horses and came in to investigate." He pointed to the dead man, "It is a good thing he was so focused on you because if I hadn't of been able to jump him, he would have killed us all. That is no ordinary soldier."


"What is he?"


"That is a special operative of the Governor himself."


Syler narrowed his eyes, "How can you tell?"


Lamastus toed a the man's bracer, "See that? It is the Governor's seal. No other Angvardi could command him except an operative of the Empress or, of course, the Empress herself. These guys are serious business. They don't often take prisoners and are very, very good at killing people."


Syler didn't like the sound of that. "Why would someone like this be out when there were plenty of guards?"


Lamastus shrugged, "I don't know, but if I were to guess, he was hunting someone specific. These type of operatives are not sent out to perform general tasks, but are more like focused assassins there to kill specific, important targets. If he was here to kill one of you, then the governor wants that person quite badly."


Chills went down Syler's back as his thoughts went to Bronwyn. Thinking about her also reminded him that he needed to touch her again before the pain returned. As he sat down on the blanket next to her, he said, "Bronwyn. He is after Bronwyn."


"Why would they want her?" asked the Angvardi.


With a sigh, Syler replied, "Because she is a seer."


Lamastus' eyes grew round and he let out a soft noise that really didn't form any words. Alltis spoke up and said, "Will Uthas continue to send assassins?"


After a few seconds, Lamastus replied, "Probably. If he wanted her enough to send one of his own personal operatives, he is probably going to send out more. Operatives are not easy to come by because they are not common men. They are fanatically loyal, extremely intelligent, and among the best fighters and assassins that have ever been trained. They can blend into any crowd or role and are tenacious in following their prey. I have heard of some operatives staying on the trail of their target for over a year before killing him."


"That ain't good," commented a still sleepy sounding Havert.


"No," Lamastus agreed, "it isn't." He slid the bracers off of the man's forearms and held onto them. "I think I will hang on to these. You never know when it could be useful to appear as the governor's operative."


"If he could track us, so could others," Syler said. "We need to get moving once more and put some distance between us and Kubei."


"Aww, does that mean no more sleep?" complained Havert.


"You should have been on watch to begin with," Syler reminded him. "You fell asleep and endangered us all."


"Havert!" Alltis exclaimed. "You did what?"


"I am sorry, but I was tired," he said as his face turned bright red.


"It looks like you won't be standing watch any time soon," his wife said. "I am sorry, Syler, he is usually pretty responsible."


Despite himself, Syler chuckled, "Boy, he has you fooled."


"I do not!" exclaimed Havert in an attempt to defend himself. He was silenced by one look from Alltis and hung his head.


"We need to get out of here," Lamastus said. He looked down at Bronwyn and asked, "What is wrong with her?"


Syler's face darkened and his voice lowered, "She has some sort of spell cast on her that leaves her in unbearable agony. They prepared it by burning symbols into her stomach while they were torturing her, then unleashed the spell after she had escaped."


Lamastus' face grew just as dark as Syler's and he uttered a few curses that Syler had never heard before. "Of all the barbaric things to do, that has got to be the lowest I have heard. If there was ever a sign that Governor Uthas was unworthy of my devotion, that was it."


"She has been unconscious for some time, though she reacts to the pain of the spell. Apparently, the only way to counteract it is if am touching her." Syler explained. Lamastus was still clearly angry, but Syler thought he looked reflective after hearing that.


Syler left things at that as the small group began gathering the blankets and preparing to move out. Lamastus went away for a little bit to get both his and the operative's horses. Syler was happy to have another horse just in case Bronwyn woke up and could ride on her own. He was growing concerned at her prolonged unconsciousness. The longer she was out, the more he wondered if the spell had something to do with it. There was nothing he could do about it right now, so he got the group moving once more with her slumped in front of him.


* * * * *


Imperial Palace


Angvardi Empire


Princess Raella woke screaming.


Within moments, her maid, Ellis, was trying to push her way through the alarmed guards who had rushed to her side. The maid, once she got through, grabbed the princess' hand and asked, "What is it, my lady?"


Raella wasn't quite sure. She stopped screaming to answer the question, paused to take a breath, and opened her mouth to reply. Before she could say anything, she completely forgot what it was she had been screaming about. She closed her mouth and blinked for a few seconds as though to clear her mind and remember, but nothing came. "I don't know," she said at last.


The guards looked at each other in confusion, but said nothing. As soon as they saw that no harm had come to their ward, they bowed and left her chambers. Ellis looked concerned and pressed the princess a little farther, "Was it a bad dream?"


"I truly don't know," the princess admitted with a blush. "All I remember was falling to sleep, then waking up screaming."


This was not an uncommon occurrence. Raella was the eldest child of Empress Celienna and King Rael and, as magic ran deeply in both bloodlines, was gifted with magic herself. Despite being gifted with magic, her gift was abnormal for the imperial and royal bloodlines. She was a clairvoyant, one whom was sensitive to events and people around her. She would never cast spells of destruction or healing, nor would she ever see the future or have skills in alchemy and the altercation of the natural world. Though many deemed it among the weakest of the magical gifts, Raella was extremely perceptive and was sometimes able to use it to her advantage. She was able to sense subtle things in people and events that none else could see and could use it to detect deception, honesty, loyalty, and many other traits.


In the earliest of days during the ancient era, when magic was a little studied and highly mystical phenomenon, clairvoyants would often sense things at great distances or that were coming. They could not, however, see or sense the future even if on occasion, their insights allowed them to make accurate predictions of what would come. They frequently told of what they sensed happen from afar, be it a tragedy or a coming boon or some other great portend. Then, when news of that event arrived, those around the clairvoyants believed they had seen the future. Similarly, when a clairvoyant sensed a coming storm or an advancing army, they knew it would come and warned of its arrival before it happened. Because of that, early superstition had often confused clairvoyants with seers or prophets. It wasn't until detailed studies were conducted in the late ancient era that the differences between those gifts were defined. Despite that, the name "clairvoyant" remained to this day.


When she was young, Raella often woke up after having nightmares. Sometimes, she would be sitting down perfectly happy, then burst into tears when she sensed tragedy or start laughing when she sensed something happy. Even now, when she was eighteen years old, she sometimes had trouble controlling her reaction when she sensed something particularly powerful. She had been getting better as she grew into her gift and received teaching, but only a master of clairvoyance was able to completely control what they felt or even block things out.


"It must have been a terrible thing to cause you to feel this way," Ellis commented.


"Possibly. I really hope it wasn't a battle," mused Raella. She didn't like not knowing what had sent her into a fit. Even as a young girl, she would at least remember the feelings even if she couldn't interpret them. This was perplexing enough that she would have to seek advice from her tutor in the morning. She looked up at Ellis and offered a weak smile, "I am okay, Ellie, I really am. Go back to sleep."


The maid wasn't entirely convinced, but there was no use arguing, not at this late hour. Maybe in the morning, the princess' memory would come back and all would be well. She offered a quick bow, then went back to her own room.


* * * * *


Tower of Estar

Terula City

Kingdom of Terula


Master Prophet Xalent was rarely one who worried over the future. While it might seem odd for someone whose entire existence was centered around the future, he found that it never helped anything or anyone to fret over what was to come. In his opinion, the future was going to happen and little could be done to stop it. Despite the machinations of man, only the gods could alter the future. Prophecy to him wasn't the gods giving mankind a chance to change it, but rather the gods giving mankind a warning of what was to come. Fretting about what was to come was pointless as it would come regardless. It was always better to accept what was to be and adapt as best as possible.


Now, though, he wasn't doing so well at abiding by his own beliefs. He was staring at another new prophecy that had just been delivered to his desk. This new prophecy was unique for multiple reasons. The first was its simultaneous deliverance. Four different prophets received the exact same prophecy a mere handful of hours ago. It was quite common for multiple prophets to receive the same or similar prophecies. In truth, most prophets including Xalent, didn't trust a prophecy unless it was verified by multiple sources. While multiple prophets receiving the same prophecy at the same time wasn't as rare as all of them receiving it at once, it was still something that would make even the most amateur of prophets pause.


The second was that it was so blunt, so direct, and so unmistakable. Prophecy normally wasn't this literal or direct. Allegories, allusions, generalities, vague terms, and mere hints were the normal components of a prophecy. This one, though, was extremely explicit and left no need for interpretation or speculation.


The third, and most troubling reason that this was an unusual prophecy was that it was not really a prophecy at all. The vision was delivered in the same mode as any normal prophecy, but it was not telling of future events. It was telling of what had happened and only what happened. Telling of what happened in the past was not at all uncommon in prophecy, but it was always, always accompanied by a prediction, warning, or some other indication of what would happen in the future. This one offered no such thing. It was a directive, a clear announcement and confirmation of past prophecy. Such a thing was simply not done. Xalent couldn't find a single example of a prophecy being given after the fact.


Though the circumstances surrounding the prophecy itself were disturbing, it was simple.


Through blood and suffering, the Master of Magic was realized on this night.


The use of the verb phrase "was realized" in the past tense had originally caused Xalent to question each of the four prophets who had reported the prophecy. He had rigorously questioned them to make sure they weren't substituting their own words or interpretation to the prophecy. He pressed them to see if they had missed a part of the prophecy. Perhaps this was only the first part and they were too excited to complete it. Every one of the four remained firm that this was the exact prophecy and that they had viewed it in its completion. Each man was an experienced prophet who were not known for mistakes such as incomplete prophecies and there was no evidence of any tampering of the prophecies themselves. The Master Prophet was forced to let them go and had been left alone in his chambers worrying about what this meant and how he was going to report this news to the king.


* * * * *


West of Klatasta

South Equab

Kingdom of Terula


Though he was far away from anything that had been familiar to him, Prophet Aitin was comforted in knowing that prophecy was always with him. He had received the short prophecy and was both comforted by it and disturbed. He was comforted in knowing that things were happening as he had foreseen them and that the time for the One was nigh. He was disturbed because it was happening so soon and he still had a long way to go on his journey.


Two months ago, he had received a prophecy that knocked him literally off of his feet. He had never had such a thing happen and was overwhelmed with the sheer power of it. It was as though Tantis the Founder himself was talking to him, guiding him on what had to be done. He had woken from this visit to find that everyone had been given a similar prophecy. It did not take long for him to determine that what they had been given was incomplete, only a part of what been delivered to him.


He knew what he had to do and did it without hesitation. He didn't quite know how he managed to escape the heavily guarded Tower of Estar, but he did. He had so much to do, so many things that needed doing. His first stop had taken him to Envrad in the northern reaches of Terula, now he had to travel to Klatasta for the next part of his quest. From there, he would likely be led to many other places. He had a long, hard journey in front of him, but this was a welcome reminder that he was not doing this in vain.

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Personally, I liked the shorter posts since you post so often. If you posted updates less often, I'd say longer are fine, but as it is I prefer the shorter ones.


Oh, and you forgot to update the title.


Anyway, onto my comments:


I'm curious about Raella and Aitin. Interesting that Aitin received more of the prophecy than everyone else...I wonder what it said...


Four different prophets received the exact same prophecy a mere handful of hours ago. It was quite common for multiple prophets to receive the same or similar prophecies. In truth, most prophets including Xalent, didn't trust a prophecy unless it was verified by multiple sources. While multiple prophets receiving the same prophecy at the same time wasn't as rare as all of them receiving it at once, it was still something that would make even the most amateur of prophets pause.


I don't get what you're saying here. First you say that it's unique because it was seen by four different prophets, and then you say that multiple prophets seeing the same thing is not unique. Is it or is it not? If it is common, then the last line doesn't follow, because why would it give someone pause if it's usually the case that multiple prophets have the same visions?


Other stuff:


Syler felt like his head had barely touched his pillow when he was woken by something in the house.


Use a different metaphor here, because I was confused by the mention of a pillow. I understand that you wanted us to grasp the confusion of the moment, but you can get that across without the weird mention of a pillow in the middle of the wilderness.


His heart began pacing


?? I don't think that's a metaphor...


"Why would someone like this be out when there were plenty of guards."


Question mark.


"Bronwyn, he is after Bronwyn."


"Bronwyn. He's after Bronwyn."


"Possibly, I really hope it wasn't a battle," mused Raella


Possibly. I really hope


another, new prophecy


Don't need the comma.


Looking forward to more, as always.


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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I'm curious about Raella and Aitin. Interesting that Aitin received more of the prophecy than everyone else...I wonder what it said...

You will find out in due time. Just in case you forgot (as it has been some time since you read it), he is the prophet who first received the big prophecy a bunch of chapters ago and fled from their tower. He will be back.


Raella will also be revisited and will become a major character. I like her already and have some fun ideas of what to do with her. The poor girl is extremely good natured, but is naive and not very versed on the real world.


I don't get what you're saying here. First you say that it's unique because it was seen by four different prophets, and then you say that multiple prophets seeing the same thing is not unique. Is it or is it not? If it is common, then the last line doesn't follow, because why would it give someone pause if it's usually the case that multiple prophets have the same visions?

It is unique because all of those factors came together. Yes, the fact that four receiving a prophecy at once is not unheard of, it is still quite rare. Combined with the other four things and it makes this prophecy unparalleled and unique (at least to his experience).


Use a different metaphor here, because I was confused by the mention of a pillow.

A pillow can be a bunched up coat or even a stone. Anything you rest your head upon is a pillow. If you truly think it is a big deal, I can change it, but I have always taken the word "pillow" as being something you rest your head on, not just as what we spoiled Westerners think of it as.


Fixed the errors you found.



Next part and the end of the chapter.





* * * * *


East of See Sei

Angvardi Province of the Sei


It had been a long journey for the five of them. What should have been just a few days ride turned into nine days of trying to avoid Angvardi patrols and scrape enough food together to survive. It didn't help that they had to stop frequently so Syler could tend to Bronwyn.


Syler was growing extremely worried about Bronwyn's condition. She had been fading in and out of consciousness throughout the journey, but she wasn't able to stay awake for long and hadn't been completely coherent when she was. Worse, her wounds had grown infected despite Syler's every attempt to treat them. She had a fever that seemed to only be growing worse. He used all of his knowledge as a herbalist to find various leaves and roots and stems to make simple poultices that he could apply, but it was not easy since he wasn't familiar with the plains of Kuti territory or eastern Sei. Water was in short supply, as was fresh cloth for bandages and wrapping the poultices. The constant traveling was not good for her at all, and at one point, he insisted that they stop for half the day to rest just for her sake.


He had failed her yet again. He couldn't prevent her from being taken, he couldn't rescue her quick enough, he couldn't heal her, and he couldn't relieve her pain. All of it wore on him and put him more on edge than he should have been. The others knew it and gave him a lot of leeway and understanding even when he snapped at them over something trivial. He didn't know how long he could endure things like this before he lost his mind.


Food was scarce as well. The meager supplies that Growald's men had prepared were hardly enough to last them three days. It didn't help that they had an extra mouth to feed with Lamastus having joined them. Lamastus, for his part, proved to be more of a help than a hindrance. He knew more about Angvardi patrol routes than any of them. He also was able to go into one village disguised as an operative and buy them some food and bandages.


The nights seemed to grow colder and colder, but Syler wasn't sure if that was because of the temperature or their exhaustion. Despite going farther and farther west away from Kubei, Syler still had the feeling that they were being followed. There was a nervousness that enveloped the entire party to the point that they were constantly looking behind them expecting a patrol to be there waiting to kill them. That edginess took its toll and they were on edge and easily provoked.


While Havert and Alltis seemed fine and spent most of their time riding next to each other in quiet conversation, there was a definite rift between Havert and the others. He had never been very close to Lamastus and barely knew him, so there wasn't any real friendship there. Lamastus was cordial enough with both of them, but didn't really attempt to start conversations with either of them. While Havert didn't verbally question Syler's decision to accept the Angvardi into their party, Syler sensed that he didn't quite welcome him.


Not only was Havert at odds with Lamastus, but he was distant with Syler as well. He never forgave him for killing the unarmed priest back in the Temple. Syler didn't mind much because he still hadn't forgotten how Havert's ineptitude had nearly gotten him killed on that first night. Alltis didn't want to be caught in the middle, but had no choice. She wouldn't betray her husband, but neither did she want to abandon Bronwyn. On their frequent stops, she was always there to help tend to Bronwyn in ways that Syler didn't feel comfortable doing. She tried to remain friendly, but was clearly not happy with the dissension in their party.


Syler and Lamastus got along well enough. With Havert and Alltis spending most of their time together and Bronwyn unable to speak, that meant that he had plenty of time to talk with the Angvardi. He often helped Syler get Bronwyn up and down from his horse and was fascinated by his feeble attempts to heal her. He explained that healing and potion making had never been a strong point of his, but that he was eager to learn. Syler was glad to show him a few things such as how to properly clean and dress a wound and some of the basic herbal remedies he could find. The days of travel offered their tense moments, but most of the time, everyone managed to keep cordial enough to prevent fights from breaking out.


In the early part of the eighth day, Syler thought he spotted a familiar landmark on the horizon. As they got closer, Havert joined him in his excitement. They recognized the oddly shaped hill that could be seen from See Sei, the second largest city in the Sei. They were only a few hours trot to the city, and only about a day from Sandrin itself. That news was uplifting and encouraged all of their spirits giving them the drive to continue forward.


They were starting to go west around the city when they saw dust being kicked up in front of them heading in their direction. "Looks like horses," Syler commented.


Lamastus stood up in his stirrups and tried to get a better look. After a few seconds, he said, "No more than a half dozen riders. We probably should stop and hunker down so they don't see our own dust trail."


"I don't think it matters much," said Havert. "Look, they are comin' right at us."


Alltis said, "We don't know they are after us. They could be going somewhere that just happens to take them near us."


They were indeed, and at a full gallop. "If they are just regular travelers on their way to somewhere in a hurry, they won't follow us," Syler said. "We should move away at an angle and see if they will simply pass us by."


"And if they are hunting for us, that will give away our position," Lamastus pointed out.


"How would they know who we were?" replied Syler. "We haven't seen anyone in over a day, there is no way they would know we were coming here and even if they did, they wouldn't know exactly where we were. There would be multiple scout parties scattered all around hoping to catch us in a net just like the Angvardi did outside Kubei. This is one group, not a web of scouts."


Lamastus shrugged, "It makes sense."


"Let's go," Syler said and urged his horse into a trot. The other three joined him and they started moving away from the riders at a perpendicular angle. After a couple of minutes, Syler looked back and noticed in dismay that the others had changed course and were still heading straight for them.


"Hold up!" he shouted over the noise of the horses hooves stamping into the ground. "They are changing course!"


Both Havert and Lamastus let loose a few curses as they saw for themselves that their pursuers were coming after them. "We have to flee," Lamastus said.


Nobody argued, so Syler urged his horse into a gallop and slowly took them northeast away from the city. It was exactly the opposite direction he wanted to go as it took them away from Sandrin, but they had no choice. The riders were coming from the city, so the easiest way to get away would be to head the other way.


They drove their horses as hard as they dared, but it was clearly taking its toll. To his relief, Syler noticed that their pursuit was falling back a little and hoped that since they had been pushing their mounts for longer, they wouldn't be able to make it up. If the five of them could keep ahead of their pursuit long enough for the sun to set, they could evade them in the night.


The ride wasn't easy for Bronwyn. Midway through their flight, she regained consciousness and began to moan in pain as the horse jostled her back and forth. Syler tried to keep her steady, but it just wasn't possible. He didn't want to think about how much pain the moving around would cause her due to the infected wounds running up and down her body. Normally, when she woke, they stopped and tried to get her to drink and eat as much as possible before she faded again.


Syler could do little but hold her tightly against him with one arm while he held the reins with the other. Every time she moaned or cried out in pain was like a dagger in his heart. He almost wanted to stop, lay her down, and fight whoever was coming for them just to get it over with. He couldn't do that and deep down, he knew it. They had to run because there was no telling how skilled the ones hunting them were. With just three men among them, it was not good odds, and Syler still didn't consider either himself or Havert as very skilled. They had gotten lucky at the Temple, but he didn't want to push that luck.


They got far enough ahead that Syler felt they could slow their paces slightly so they didn't kill their horses. Now, they could barely see their pursuit except when they were at the top of a hill looking down on them. As evening began to set, it seemed like they might be able to get out of the way after all.


When it was too dark to see far in the waning moon, they came across a stream. Syler ordered a quick break to water the horses and refill their own water skins. Lamastus helped him get Bronwyn down from the horse so he could make her as comfortable as possible. He rested her head in his own lap while slowly feeding her some bread and water. She was not entirely lucid and was barely able to drink or eat. He had to keep a close eye on her to make sure she didn't choke. He wanted to change her bandages, but there was no time and he didn't want to accidentally pull open one of the wounds by working in the dark.


After five minutes, they had to go again. Syler had been leading them on as straight a path as possible throughout the afternoon and evening. His hope would be that their pursuers would expect them to continue to do so and wouldn't suspect a change in course now. With the stream to mask their tracks should the other riders actually be able to see them in the darkness, it was a perfect time to change course and hopefully lose them.


They went north which would allow them to bypass See Sei from the north so they could come down along the Sua border and approach Sandrin from the west. He wasn't sure exactly how far they had traveled in their flight, but he figured they had traveled twenty or more miles since first encountering the riders. It had been farther than they had traveled in any other day of their journey, but it took its toll on all of them.


They followed the stream for a mile or so, then branched off to the west and traveled at a light trot for thirty more minutes. After that, they had to rest. One of their horses was breathing heavily and sweating despite the cool air. Lamastus feared that if they didn't stop now, they would lose the horse. Syler quickly agreed because Bronwyn wasn't faring well either even though she had slipped back into unconsciousness shortly after they started off again.


They found an open spot and set up a basic camp that pretty much consisted of only bedrolls since they didn't dare light a fire. With Lamastus on first watch””Havert had yet to fully regain their trust after the first night””Syler went to sleep with Bronwyn held close as normal. He had the middle watch while Alltis had the last watch. It meant that his sleep was broken, but they rotated who went when every night. Though Havert wasn't allowed to sit watch, he typically stayed up with Alltis during her watch. She clearly enjoyed his company, but both Syler and Lamastus thought that the reason he stayed up with her was out of guilt. Despite his willingness to stay up even when he didn't have to, they still didn't trust him with watch duty, especially with pursuit on their tail.


Syler was woken by Lamastus shaking him gently and whispering, "We have company."


It took but a few moments for the adrenaline to start kicking in bringing him to full alert. Syler nodded, sat up, and reached for his sword while Lamastus woke up Havert and Alltis. Slowly and silently, he got into a crouch next to the unconscious Bronwyn and scanned the black horizon for whatever it was that had tipped off the Angvardi. He saw nothing, but didn't doubt Lamastus' senses.


They all jumped when a voice called out from the darkness, "Syler Penion, we aren't here to hurt you."


Syler didn't know what to do. He could barely see the others looking at his direction and realized they were letting him make their next move. He saw no point in trying to hide because whoever these men were, they clearly knew who he was. "Who are you?" he called back to them.


"We are friends," the voice said. It sounded slightly familiar, but Syler couldn't place it. There was a Sei accent to it that made him feel a little better.


"What friends would that be?"


"We are with Lieutenant Growald."


"Lieutenant Growald?" Syler mumbled to himself. "That is new." In a louder voice, he said, "How do I know you are really with him?"


There was the slightest of pauses, then the voice said, "He sent us instead of coming himself because he said that if he had come into your camp, you likely would have punched him in the face instead of hearing him out."


Even though nobody could see it, Syler shrugged and nodded his head in agreement. That would likely have been his first reaction, that is, if he didn't go for his sword first. He was quite fed up of that arrogant, uncouth bastard and he still didn't trust the man. He knew too much and kept it all to himself.


"Okay, so now I believe you. Who are you?"


"I am Tald, you may remember me from Kubei."


Syler did, and that was why he thought the voice sounded familiar. From what he remembered, Tald was a decent man. He didn't know him very well, but Havert did. "What now? Why did he send you and how did you know we were here?"


Tald said, "He will answer those things, but he assures you that he wishes you no harm."


Again, Syler murmured, "I bet he does." He thought it over for a few seconds and realized that they really didn't have much a choice. Growald's men were here and they had managed to track them even through the night and through their attempts to throw them off. Even if they didn't have them surrounded””and he would bet they did””they couldn't afford to flee again. It would kill their horses and quite possibly Bronwyn.


"Okay, we will talk to him."

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I'm still not sure I understand why Syler hates Growald so much. *shrugs* Oh well.


Good chapter, not much to comment on by way of story, but I did notice a few crit things for you.


Syler could tend to Bronwyn's worsening condition. Syler was growing extremely worried about Bronwyn's condition.


Repetitive. Pick a different phrase, or just put 'her' the second time.


there was a definite rift between him and the others.


You mean Havert? Too many pronouns in this section.


Lamastus was cordial with both of them, but for the most part, they kept to themselves.


Is this Havert and Alltis, or Syler and Havert?


He never forgave him for killing the unarmed priest back in the Temple.


This is switching tenses, and making a really strong statement. I think you want to stick with the same tense: He had not forgiven him...


It had been farther than they had traveled in any other day of their journey, but it took its toll on all of them.


Do you mean 'and' instead of 'but'? Traveling farther than ever before would naturally mean it took it's toll on them.


that pretty much consisted of only bedrolls since they didn't dare light a fire


They have bedrolls? I got the impression that they didn't have anything but a bit of food. Had Growald included those in the small, last-minute preparatory pack? I suppose it's no problem if he did, but it caught me by surprise, since I assumed they weren't included.


If so, you might want to say earlier what is included in the pack.


Havert stayed up with Alltis during her watch and though she enjoyed his company


So, I would add 'always' after Havert, because the way this paragraph reads, it seems that the action is taking place. So in the next paragraph when Lamastus wakes up Syler, I was thrown off a bit, because I had read it that Lamastus and Syler had both already had their watches and now it was Alltis' turn.


Other that those things, good as always. As for the things from last chapter, I would just make that paragraph about the uniqueness of the prophecy more clear, and I would change the pillow reference, just for clarity's sake. You don't want to even possibly confuse your readers.


There goes Ami's reputation of being a peaceful, nice person.
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Repetitive. Pick a different phrase, or just put 'her' the second time.

Alas, another victim of my editing. Many of these sections get reworked a few times and I think that might be a victim. I will fix it immediately.


You mean Havert? Too many pronouns in this section.

Yes, I fixed it. I also went through and redid that larger paragraph and broke it into two paragraphs. One focuses on the relationship between Havert and Alltis with Lamastus, the other focuses on the two of them with Syler. I also used less pronouns and more names. That may help clarify things a bit.


Do you mean 'and' instead of 'but'? Traveling farther than ever before would naturally mean it took it's toll on them.

No, I think I am happy with "but" being there. The reason is that it is like saying "I managed to do very well on the test, but the extra studying left me exhausted."


They have bedrolls? I got the impression that they didn't have anything but a bit of food. Had Growald included those in the small, last-minute preparatory pack? I suppose it's no problem if he did, but it caught me by surprise, since I assumed they weren't included.

In the last paragraph of the previous chapter, I mention Syler getting a large blanket from Havert's saddlebag. I generally view bedrolls as simply blankets typically folded over, not something like sleeping bags. They had supplies, but there were also things on the saddles that they would have had available to them (as they were originally geared up for Angvardi scouts and would have some things already equipped). I can clarify that more if you think it necessary, I was just trying not to overburden everyone with details.


So, I would add 'always' after Havert,

I went back and redid a good portion of that paragraph to make it more clear as to the level of distrust Lamastus and Syler have for Havert and to make it clear that he stayed up with Alltis despite not having to.


I would change the pillow reference, just for clarity's sake.

I went back to the chapter before and added a sentence (in the master document) in the last paragraph saying Syler rolled up a shirt to use as his pillow.


I'm still not sure I understand why Syler hates Growald so much. *shrugs* Oh well.

Well, let me try to help you. I know you are reading this sporadically so it might not all be fresh in your memory (I am looking to find some test readers who can start from the start and read it like they would a normal book to test out things like this).

1. Growald is a brutish, uncouth, and very rude man. I hope I got that point across by how he was talking about Syler and Bronwyn from the very first time the reader (but not Syler) meets him.

2. Growald basically said he was going to beat the crap out of Syler, then was going to rape Bronwyn. Even though at that time, Syler didn't love her romantically, he still cared about her a great deal.

3. Growald may have helped Syler out, but that wasn't out of any form of kindness. Growald wanted into that Temple and used Syler just like Syler used Growald. That doesn't get many points towards friendship.

4. Growald treats Syler like a naive boy. And while, in a way, Syler is naive compared to Growald, that doesn't mean that Syler finds being called "boy" constantly to be very endearing. Every time Growald calls Syler "boy," picture some Southern redneck saying that to someone whom they feel they are better than.

5. Syler doesn't think it is very wise to keep fighting against the Angvardi. He sees the war as over, yet Growald is continuing it. Not only that, but Growald has roped in Syler's best friend (Havert) and Syler doesn't think it will turn out good for Havert. While, at this point in the story, that is pretty much moot, it was a part of why Syler didn't like Growald throughout their time in Kubei.

6. Syler doesn't like owing Growald for anything. It is like you having to go to your worst rival and asking for help.

7. Ultimately, part of it comes down to the alpha male syndrome. Growald is definitely an alpha dog, but to a lesser degree, so is Syler (even at this early point). They don't like each other because both want to control what is going on. Some of that is a fight over Havert, some of it is a fight over the current events.


As for why Growald wouldn't like Syler, well, there are plenty of reasons (some of which are similar to Syler's), but you will have to wait for a while before all of those manifest themselves. I will say that Growald pushes Syler's buttons intentionally because he doesn't like Syler at all.


I hope that helps clear some of their relationship up. If it still isn't clear after I get a few fresh eyes to read through it, I will go back and spell some more of that out. I am trying not to throw everything in the novel itself because I would rather think that the readers are smart enough to catch it on themselves without that. On here, since you and Brendo are reading it in little bits, I try to help out by reminding you of what is going on to refresh your memories.




Okay, next part. Again, neither Growald or Syler particularly like each other. This might not be the most important part, but it is important due to the fact that it changes Syler's plans and sets him on a different path. I couldn't just have him abandon his desire to find his sister without a reason. Plus, it lets onto a bit of magic that will come very, very handy in the future and I didn't want to just have it happen later on without setting it up because it would look too much like cheating.



Chapter 15


Magic does not always need to be directly cast on someone to work. Sometimes, it can be set at a particular location to be activated at a desired time or should a specific set of events happen. The magic lays dormant until preset circumstances trigger it. Such is how magical wards, defenses, barriers, and even traps are made.


”” Primer in Static Magic by Battlemage Kaithas


Wilderness northeast of See Sei,

Angvardi Province of Sei


As soon as Syler had agreed to go with them, they had lit torches and emerged from all around them. There were four of them on foot and, as Syler suspected, they had surrounded their camp. They let them gear up their horses then walked them a half mile southeast to where Growald was waiting with another two men. When they got there, Syler and the others made no move to get off of their horses.


"Syler, it is good to see you again," he said by way of welcome.


The blacksmith rolled his eyes. He had no patience for this man. He said, "Lying isn't a good way to start a conversation, Growald. Oh, I like the promotion. Lieutenant Growald has a nice ring to it."


The burly man started to say something, but the man next to him grabbed his forearm and he stopped himself. He forced a smile on his face and said in a syrupy sweet voice, "The fighting has thinned the ranks of the officers, so I was promoted to help fill in the gaps."


"The army was destroyed at Fazei."


The forced smile on Growald's face slowly changed into a genuine one, "Not entirely. There are still survivors. Not all of the army was present at that battle, and there are others like us who have escaped the clutches of our enemy. Speaking of which, I see you brought an Angvardi with you. Now, tell me why I shouldn't kill him right now."


Syler's hand went to his sword and he saw both Havert and Lamastus doing the same. "He saved us all and has proven to be a loyal friend, Growald. If you want to kill him, you will have to kill all of us." Somehow, Syler felt that killing them wasn't something the soldier wanted. They had fought a few times, yes, but he had never given him any indication that he wanted them dead.


Growald snorted and turned his head briefly to spit on the ground. "You are a fool to trust an Angvardi, they are nothing but vile snakes."


"Not all of us are the same," Lamastus said in his defense. "I value my friends and despise the brutality that went on in that Temple."


"Do you now? That is most amusing, truly, but I don't buy it."


"I do," said Syler. "What you believe doesn't matter to me. Now, why did you follow us all the way out here and what do you want?"


Growald reached into his pocket, pulled out a piece of folded parchment, then threw it up to Syler. Syler deftly caught it and, with a single look at Growald, opened it. He couldn't see what was on it, so he asked for a torch. In the light of the torch, he saw it was a map of this entire region. There was a small unnaturally glowing mark northeast of where See Sei was. Syler handed the map and torch over to Lamastus so he could have a look.


"Okay, so what is it?" he asked.


"It is you," replied Growald. "Or, more precisely, it is Havert here. And Alltis. And me."


"What do you mean?" asked Lamastus as he passed the map over to Havert.


"What I mean is that we are caught in a damned magical trap, thanks to Bronwyn here."


Syler's eyes narrowed and his voice dropped, "Explain."


"Well," Growald began, "after I managed to escape the Angvardi trap outside Kubei, I headed west as fast as I could with the four of us who made it. We made it to Bomhada and linked up with some fellow brothers in arms when we were ambushed by some rather pissed off Shalktra. They probably didn't think there were more than a few of us and were beaten pretty badly when they found out there were dozens of experienced Seinari. They retreated, but not before we managed to kill a couple of them.


"When we searched the bodies, we found that map. It had a nice little glowing spot where we were, and some more where I presume you were. For a time, I saw a few dots in Kubei where I think some of the Kuti women had been recaptured and brought back to the dungeons. Those dots disappeared a day ago, I presume as they were killed. As you can see, the ones showing us are still very much active."


"What does that mean?" Alltis asked. Syler had a bad feeling that he knew, but didn't say anything and let Growald continue his story.


"It means, sweet Alltis, that there was a trap set for whomever would come to get Bronwyn here. At least, I am pretty sure it was Bronwyn. I can't think of anyone else whom they would want to keep tabs on. One of my more magically gifted friends did some verification spells on me and found that it is a tracer, one spread by contact with the target. Anyone who has touched Bronwyn since she was freed has been marked and the Terulans have a map that leads straight to us. Fortunately, it is not a chain tracer spell. That means that only those who have had direct physical contact with the girl will show up on the map, but not everyone they might touch."


Lamastus swore under his breath. "You sure it was the Shalktra who did this and not Governor Uthas?" he asked.


Growald grunted and shrugged his shoulders, "It was definitely Shalktra that came for us, not Angvardi."


"The other guards were furious at what the Terulans were doing," Lamastus pointed out. "I don't think they care about the prisoners, only the Shalktra would come after you."


"Maybe, but I think that is beside the point," Syler said. "We need to find a way to counter this spell before they track us down."


"There is only one way I know of to do that," said Growald with a fiendish looking smile. "That is why I had to find you."


Syler rolled his eyes, "Why? Because you enjoy me beating you to a pulp?"


"No, boy, because you are the only one who can counter the spell with our current resources. An experienced wizard could do it, and perhaps maybe an extraordinarily strong mage, but we don't have either at our disposal."


"I don't have any magical ability, so why do you think I could do it?" Syler was getting a bad feeling about this. His doubts and distrust of Growald were resurfacing.


"Syler Penion, if only everyone could be as naively foolish as you. If you want to know why, then come with me. If you don't care, then by all means, stay here and wait for the Shalktra to hunt you down."


"Why should we go anywhere with you?"


"Because, quite simply, if you don't, then you will die. That map isn't a fake and I have already bet my life that it isn't the only copy. Until you can get that spell off of your friends, you won't be safe. There were more Shalktra in Kut than we had in Kubei. There could be hundreds of them already on your trail."


"And what about my sister?" said Syler defiantly. "I am not going to leave her behind."


"You are from Sandrin, right?" asked Growald. When Syler nodded, he continued, "All of the single women from Sandrin were taken into the Sua territories just like we were taken to Kut. I don't know where exactly, but I do know she isn't in Sandrin. You would never be able to find her with the Shalktra hunting you down."


For a moment, Syler wondered if the other man was lying just to get him to do what he wanted. He was frustrated and exhausted enough already as it was and was in no mood for dealing with more of Growald's antics. "What is your game here?"


Growald spread his hands out in front of him palm up and said, "No game. If you want to live, you need to get that tracer off of you. If you want to do that, you need to come with me."


With a snarl of frustration, Syler pulled the reigns of his horse to the side and started away from where Growald and his men were standing. "We need to talk this over in private," he called back.


With clear hesitation, the others followed him a few dozen yards away from the others. "What do you think, should we go with him or not?" Syler said. "I am not your leader and won't make the decision for you."


"I don't like him one bit," Lamastus said quickly. "You told me what he did to you last month. Right now, he sounds like a man with his own agenda."


"He ain't a bad man," interjected Havert. "He may be rough and a bit crude, but he knows what he is doin'. Admit it, Syler, if it warn't for him, you wouldn't have gotten Bronwyn out of that dungeon."


"True, I did need him," Syler admitted. "Don't think that was for me, though, he did it because he wanted to kill the Easterners."


"He helped ya get out of Kubei."


"Yes, that much is true, but there is something about him I really don't like. I can't put my finger on it, but he has an agenda and I am not sure it is in our best interest."


Lamastus said, "He is a thug, a brute just like the Shalktra just with a different uniform."


Syler arched his eyebrow and gave the Angvardi a sideways glance, "I wouldn't go that far. I have yet to see him torture or rape anyone."


"From what I heard, that is exactly what he was going to do to Bronwyn if you hadn't laid him flat that night," Lamastus shot back.


"He wasn't going to do that, " Havert said. "Nobody there would have let him do anything to her."


"I wouldn't have put it past him," Syler said. "Right now, though, we need to figure out what we are going to do now. I am against going with him, it would be foolish to trust him. He could easily be trying to lead us into a trap hoping to bargain for his own freedom by trading us to the Shalktra."


"That wouldn't surprise me," Lamastus said bitterly.


"What about you, Alltis?" asked Syler.


She didn't look comfortable in speaking up, but once Syler put her on the spot, she had no choice. "Growald has done nothing against us so far, I would trust him. He has men and resources we don't have and he clearly has a plan. That is more than we have right now."


"Yea, if that plan doesn't involve us ending up face down in the dirt," muttered Lamastus.


"Hey, I have worked with the guy plenty o' times and he hadn't put a knife in ma back," said Havert.


Syler didn't like it one bit and had been hoping that Alltis would side with him. Now, the group was split evenly. Lamastus clearly hated the idea of going with Growald even more than he himself did. If he refused Growald's offer and left, he wasn't sure if Havert and Alltis would join him. He would truly hate to see them go because it was unlikely that they would ever meet. Havert was his best friend, and Alltis had been very good to them, but he simply couldn't trust Growald. Every instinct in his bones was against it.


Bronwyn began to stir a little in front of him. He turned his focus to her in case she started to slide off the horse, but she didn't. Instead, to his shock, she started trying to say something. He bent down to put his ear next to her mouth.

When he heard what she whispered, his face turned pale. "What is it?" asked Alltis.


Syler didn't respond for a few seconds. When he did, he said meekly, "Bronwyn wants to go with Growald."


"What!" Lamastus exclaimed. "You are joking with us, aren't you?"


The ashen look on Syler's face said he wasn't. "No, I am not. She must have been somewhat conscious, because she just said that we need to go with Growald. She mentioned him by name. I can hardly believe it myself."


"Of all the”¦" Lamastus said in frustration. "All this time she hasn't said a single word, then out of nowhere, she decides to wake up and support Growald?"


"Did she say anything else?" asked Alltis.


Syler shook his head. "Just that we need to go with him, then she fell back into unconsciousness."


"What are you going to do?" Lamastus demanded to know.


Syler truly didn't know. He had not wanted to go with Growald, but hearing Bronwyn speak for the first time in over a week had shaken him. "Well," he thought aloud, "if Bronwyn somehow mustered the strength to say something, it had to be pretty important. She is a seer, remember? Perhaps this is the result of one of her visions."


"So I guess we are goin' with him?" said Havert timidly.


Syler nodded his head, much to Lamastus' dismay. Still, the Angvardi said nothing else and didn't argue when they turned back. For a moment, Syler was worried that he might leave on his own, but he was still right behind them when he looked back.


"So, did you decide to join us?" Growald asked with a knowing smile.


Syler's previously pale face flushed with anger. His eyes shot daggers at the man as he replied, "Yes, it seems that we are. Now, where are we going?"


"You will know when we get there," Growald said. He motioned for his men to mount up.


"No, that isn't how this is going to work," Syler said with a set jaw. "I want to know where we are going or we don't move another inch."


Growald and Syler stared each other down for a few moments before the bearded man shrugged and said, "Okay, the only place I know that the Shalktra wouldn't dare to go is the Subeleth Woods."


"Are you insane!" exclaimed Syler. "That is Krue territory. It is suicide to go there, they would kill us all."


"Not entirely," Growald said with another one of his odd smiles. "They are a reasonable people, you just have to have something they want."


"And what is that?"


"Why you of course."


Syler's sword was in his hand and he heard Lamastus draw his. "I knew it, you double crossing lying bastard."


"Calm down, boy. I am not using you as bait. Think before you open your mouth, for once in your life. Why did the Shalktra nab your pretty little wife?" Before Syler could speak, Growald interrupted him, "No, don't speak, listen and understand. There is only so much of your ignorance I can stomach. They took her because she was a seer, and not just any seer. She was a Kuti seer.


"I know that might not mean much to you, but it clearly does to those Terulan bookworm butchers, enough so that they sent hundreds of men a very long way just to find her. Did the pretty lady not say how they interrogated her asking questions about you, boy? Now, think for just a moment here, why would they want to do that? What is it about you that would make them so curious?"


When he didn't continue, Syler took that as an opening to answer. "I don't know, I am just a blacksmith."


Growald slapped his head theatrically in frustration. "We are doomed, truly. We are all doomed. Boy, I am so extremely grateful to the almighty Elements that I am not the one who has to explain everything to you because if I was, I would probably run myself through with my own sword. All I will say is that there is something about you that makes you very special to a lot of people. The Terulans aren't the only ones who know about magic and special things. The Krue do as well, and I am willing to bet my life that they will not kill us and will in truth, be your best friends."


"You are mad," Syler said after it was clear Growald was done ranting. "You are absolutely, totally mad."


With another exaggerated sigh, Growald asked, "If I am so mad, tell me why it is that your wife is afflicted with an incurable spell that leaves her in agony beyond comprehension, yet is inexplicably cured the exact moment you touch her?"


Syler blinked a few times and sat back in his saddle. He had been wondering the same thing ever since they were in Kubei, but he had come to no conclusions. "You know why, don't you?"


"I have my suspicions, but that isn't for me to decide. If anyone is to know for sure, it is the Krue. Besides, if there is anywhere that the Shalktra won't be likely to travel, it is Subeleth. They fear the Krue just as much as we do."

With a glance at Bronwyn, Syler asked, "Do you think they can help her?"


Growald shrugged, "They have powerful wielders of magic and wise healers. It is possible they may know something that can help her, but I don't know."


Syler wasn't buying it, but right now, they didn't have much of a choice. From the news the priests so proudly proclaimed in Kubei, the Angvardi had completely subjugated the Sua and were on the verge of conquering the Kosh. There just wasn't anywhere they could go that wouldn't be full of people looking for them. If it wasn't the Shalktra, it would be the Angvardi once they found out they were responsible for killing many of their priests. With a long sigh, Syler sheathed his sword and said through gritted teeth, "It looks like we are going to the Krue."

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