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The weight of legend pushes the world of Rythe toward a cataclysm. On the side of light are four heroes unlike any the world has ever seen.
Renir, a man ignorant of his destiny.
Shorn, a warrior unparalleled.
Drun, a priest of the Order of Sard, possessed of untold power.
And across the wide seas, Tirielle, orphaned and alone but for a staunch and strange companion.
They are the key to Rythe’s salvation from a threat even suns fear.
The return of the Sun Destroyers.
The First (The Sacrifice)
It was a wizard’s castle; paranoid and proud. Torches adorned each polished wall, bathing its many halls in reflected light. Murmuring wind and guards in subdued conversation made the only sounds. Any sound above a whisper and the castle’s latest master, Lord Fridel, March Chief of the Protectorate, would hear.
A quiet, careful, ninety-three years old, he rested secure in the knowledge that no intruder could reach his marble sanctuary. As a member of the Protectorate’s ruling council he was afforded great security. The walls of his castle were three feet thick in places (five at the base of the tower). A full garrison of loyal guards patrolled below, and two of his personal retinue stood watch outside his room’s thick oak doors. The castle had but one tower (a winding staircase the only point of access), and Fridel’s chambers were perched on top, separated from would-be murderers and assassins by a full fifty feet of stone. His safety was assured. The defences were enough to deter anybody…
But not anything.
Far to the south and west of Lord Fridel’s stronghold, on the outskirts of Lianthre city (the capital of Lianthre, named for the continent), a summer breeze blew soft black hair across a darkly pretty face. A young woman, only twenty-five years of age, stood atop a flat roof that overlooked her ornate country gardens. She stared into the night, directly at the solitary tower of the castle she knew was there. Tall and bright in the daytime. Hidden in the dark.
Below, the carmillon’s evening blossoms went unnoticed.
She had expected to feel joy, but her heart felt utterly empty. There was only the void where hatred once flowed. The feeling was not pleasant, but she refused to mourn Fridel’s death. Instead, she would mourn the opportunity missed; the chance to slip a dagger between his ribs herself, as he looked into his assassin’s eyes and saw her father resurrected there.
It was not murder, or worse, assassination. It was just a balancing of accounts. The rahken warrior, her warrior, would play the scales in her stead.
She pulled her hair back from her face and looked down just as the blossoms closed. Without their lurid light, she could see nothing of her lands or servants, only a faraway lantern. On a moonless night like this, the sole indication of how large her estate had become was its tiny firefly glow bobbing in the distance – her guard patrolling the boundaries to her estate.
The rahkens were a strange, fierce race that lived outside both the Protectorate and the human spheres of influence. Before the creature’s arrival, there had been nothing to see by night on the estate, and only an overgrown and thorny wilderness to see by day.
She had been tending the grove on her estate in the sweltering heat of the previous high summer when it came. The grove had been modest then, lovingly restored by her after years of neglect during her expulsion, and she had been watering to stave off the wilt. Thoughts of larger plots worried at her as she worried over the growth.
Alone and unannounced the rahken had arrived, startling her despite the brightness of the suns. A dagger had appeared in her hand, sliding from where it lurked in the sleeve of her dress, but had not flown. Instead, she had watched in stunned silence, stayed her hand, as the warrior knelt and bowed its head to her.
It had not reacted to her threat in kind. She had expected assassins, not a supplicant. With its fingers the rahken made the sign of the circle, and with that motion more than anything else its rare service was hers.
With relish she had grown in power as a councillor in Lianthre’s seat of human government, the Kuh’taenium. Her initial triumphs were granted in sympathy. Her current status was due to genuine respect. All was thanks to the rahken...and all would come to nought.
Even with such an ally, what could one woman returning from exile hope to achieve against such a mighty adversary as the oppressive Protectorate?
Now she knew. Revenge was all.
What she really craved was justice, though it seemed justice would never be hers. All she had discovered to find her father’s assassin, all that she had risked, and for what? Who among her fellow Councillors could she tell? There were few in the Kuh’taenium she called friend and could confide in none.
Yet the rahken was ample compensation. She knew not how she had managed before, and now, she rose through society faster than she could adapt. In merely six years, she had been elevated to the same status her father had achieved before her – at half his age. Just six years to reach the pinnacle of human power on the continent of Lianthre.
Humans would never be as powerful as the Protectorate. A seat in the Kuh’taenium was all she could hope for.
She should have been proud of her rise to power, even though her father would have told her pride was for fools.
Had he been there, she would have said it was for him.
The blue-burning torches in the hallway, outside Fridel’s door, sputtered wildly in wind dizzied from climbing the spiralling staircase. Each gust blew gossiping light into the shadows, where most of the stairwell’s skulking denizens were caught in the eerie, wavering, glow. Spiders startled in the sudden light scampered in retreat.
The rahken warrior merely pulled the darkness tighter.
It was at home in the gloom outside the Protocrat Lord Fridel’s lair. The great beast’s pure brown eyes – the colour of its pelt – saw in a way entirely different to human sight, reliant only on the facets of light, the colours, rather the whole. It saw the changing shades of heat and materials, the hues of human thought and the memories in the stone.
Heat from the guards outside the door appeared in shades of orange, as a corona around the body, with the black of cool steel where chainmail covered torso. The guard on the left shifted slightly. The colours tilted. He would be moving soon.
The warrior readied itself, as the guard on the right picked at something stuck between his teeth that smelled like meat. It shifted its huge shoulders as it stretched. The other left the light, plodding slowly closer. The warrior’s furred ears picked out footsteps now, but noticed they were quiet boots the guard was wearing. The cold stone underfoot looked violet.
The first guard stepped into its shadow, and the rahken struck like tempered steel. Its stiffened claw-tipped fingers made no sound as they pierced the throat. There was no malice in its eyes.
The warrior spread its fingers and tore the guard’s windpipe.
Wind escaped, some trapped in bubbles, breath wheezed and blood flowed, welling in the chainmail links before dripping onto the stone floor. The drips slowed and the guard’s polished leather boots gave a final judder. The dead protocrat became closer to the colour of the chainmail.
The warrior lowered him gently, almost reverentially, to the floor.
Humming to himself now, the second guard gave no indication he had heard anything. Seconds from death, he hummed a slow tune. It fell on unappreciative ears, though; the rahken wasted no time.
From the blackness it burst. Bounding, blindingly fast steps and the warrior’s hand – spraying the first guard’s blood – smashed palm outward into the guard’s gnarly face, with enough force and speed that he barely had time to register a blurring of the dark, and then, dark. Now that it had abandoned stealth, the rahken hit the guard hard enough to drive his head through the door. A small tear in the guard’s forehead was the only visible injury but he was obviously dead. Bone jutted through.
Before the rahken’s first swinging arm came to rest, its right arm hammered into the door. The force it generated, in less than a second, shattered the heavy wood. It dived through, as Lord Fridel rose from his chair. Malevolent eyes spun, sighting along a crossbow. Light from the unseasonal, autumnal fire in the hearth glinted on the silvery bolt. It flew.
The rahken tumbled head over heels underneath it. It coiled and sprang. Its hard head drove Fridel into the air. Open hands, claws extended, rent the late Lord’s chest. The March Chief of the Protectorate hit the ground dead.
The bolt clattered to stillness, blunted, in the hall.
The rahken stood for a second, focusing on the room, its barrel chest barely moving. On Fridel’s writing table, almost covered by a blotting cloth, the bold title ‘Protec…’ showed. It was no creature of letters, but if it concentrated it could see the aftertrail where Fridel’s eyes had passed the script. Meaning hung in the air. It could recognise the intentions and they were dark. It was enough.
Clutching the ream of papers in one hand, it left the way it came.
Tirielle A’m Dralorn heard the siren call in the distance and repressed her satisfaction until she could be inside. Her warrior had succeeded again.
The Second (The Saviour)
Across the wide seas of the world of Rythe lay a continent unknown to most Lianthrians. The entire western side of that continent was taken up by the wild, vast plains of Draymar.
A solitary figure, a foreigner in that land, stood in the meagre shelter of a tree. Growth was sparse, the grass underfoot and the occasional lost tree the only things to break the monotony of the landscape…until the eyes found the mountains to the east, magnificent and breathtaking after mile upon mile of grassland. The man remained still and watched, eyes narrowed as he strained to see through the mists that seeped from the mountains to the east. He was wearing what had once been a cloak, which hung from his frame in tatters.
Up close, his face looked worn thin in places, with dark veins showing through despite the sunburned skin. There was a scar running from cheek to cheek, straight through his nose. Questions sprung to mind about the quality of medicine on this continent, but the stitches that had held his face together once had done their job. They had left their impression, however. He had been left with marks upon this main feature, smaller scars crossing the large.
Observers often thought of a caterpillar.
It would have been the defining feature on most peoples’ faces, but not for this man. The scar became invisible very quickly for those that possessed enough intelligence to overlook it. For those too slow to sense his discomfort under scrutiny he strove to make it obvious that the scar was not open for conversation.
The man was called Shorn. It was his most recent name, but not the only one. He was a mercenary. In his line of work names were a skin to be shed. The deeds of a mercenary should go unsung.
Shorn was famous in certain circles – revered – almost. In other circles he was very unpopular, although his more vocal critics never seemed to get their harshest words out in time.
Shorn’s breath came in slow, long bursts. He breathed into the wretched cloak to make the most of the warmth. Watching the horizon behind him from the shade of the tree, he thought about his chances. Time was a commodity. Time was something Shorn understood better than most. Rhythm. Breath. Heartbeat. His heart was beating slower now and he counted time to it. He had been standing under the tree for what seemed like a very long time, but he forced himself to count, not sure if he had been standing still for long enough. He knew where the woods lay, and the mountains, granting safety, beyond them. He could see the dark shadows of the taller trees through the mist. Straining all his senses, he willed the mist to part.
There was nothing for it. It was his profession to know when to run. He knew the time was now.
Shorn broke out into long strides for the forest. His knees pumped up and down in rhythm with his arms, the action smooth. He did not see the spines that rose up in the mist behind him, slicing. The mist healed when they passed.
Shorn had no such healing powers, so he ran.
The Third (The Watcher)
Far out to sea, the triangle was complete.
The Third had been charged with watching the First and the Second. Three mortals fated to come together at the end of days.
He had been watching since the time of the Second’s arrival on Sturman shores, the country to the east of Draymar, where Shorn had first landed after the journey from the land of his birth. Sturma, tiny and inconsequential when compared to its neighbour, was dwarfed by Draymar.
Shorn was a stranger in all lands.
The First had come later, born on Lianthre, across the sea. This was interesting in itself.
The First was the Sacrifice. The Second was the Saviour.
The Third was the Watcher and his name was Drun Sard, the chosen of the Order of Sard. The Order of Sard were charged to watch for the coming of the three, and had done so for a thousand years. Now the signs were right. Drun alone among their number was gifted in the arcane arts. He could see the signs. The return was drawing near.
Though he did not know it, he had been on a platform at sea for thirty-seven years. Watching, just like many watchers before him. It was his lot of all his antecedants to join the three together.
An unkempt mass of knotted hair and beard now reached to his thighs. His hair, unhindered, had grown straight and long, but his legs and chest were bare and smooth. He sat naked on a wooden platform that floated out at sea further than any land ship had ever been, where few birds flew. He ate what fish he needed and drank rainwater when it came. Occasionally the birds brought him gifts.
He always thanked them.
He looked around his home, held to its spot by Seafarer magic and protected by his own. He laid an uncalloused palm on the worn wooden frame and said goodbye.
His supplies, in ancient wooden chests tied down against the elements, were long due replenishment. Perhaps now they would remain empty forever, for it was his time to return to the world. The time for watching was over.
Drun dived into the sea, where he ran his hands through his hair and beard under the water. He stayed there long enough to remove the knots of the last few years, when even grooming had been forgotten. When finished, he was at least clean. He knew the Order would understand. They always had.
Still dripping, he sat on the platform under the gaze of Rythe’s twin suns. He closed his eyes and dreamed of the circle.
In a circle across the world, nine men sat.
One opened his eyes, and said, “The watcher is ready.”
“The Protectorate, our ancient enemy, already plot the downfall of the Sacrifice. Their hand is evident in an attack on the Saviour, too.” The speaker’s body remained motionless. Only his lips and throat could be seen to move. “It is time for us to act. Already we may be too late. We have lapsed in our duty. The Watcher will go to the Saviour. We must protect the First for we are nearest to her.”
The man next to the speaker rose smoothly, despite having sat in the circle for five hours with legs crossed, waiting. He wore soundless armour of shifting colours. A long and straight, plain sword sat at his feet. Shining hair fell across his face, as he bent from the waist to pick up the sword, and stretch. The others forgave the breach of etiquette.
He straightened and looked around the room, bowing his head slightly to the leader of the Sard before speaking.
“We ride tonight.”
The others rose, taking sword before rising. They left the circle growing cold behind them.
Outside, nine horses pranced impatiently, already saddled. The remaining devotees of the Order of Sard mounted and left. Only their temple home Sybremreyen remained behind, towering blackly into the deep night.
Drun rose and heaved an upturned boat from the platform. It turned mid-air, splashing into the sea.
He had watched the Sacrifice and the Saviour take the path toward oblivion. The Sard had waited, changing with the times but always remaining the same in their duty; to watch for the coming of the three, and to oppose the machinations of the Protectorate wherever their evil manifested.
Now the time of the last battle was near. Drun hoped that it was not too late to make a change. Tirielle and Shorn had made their choices, learned many lessons. Now the time had come for the Third to join them together.
For their real teaching to begin.