Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Shining the Light part 1

I'm unsure of how much I can post in one go so I'll have to break this into smaller parts. This will be familiar to anyone from the For Honour and Glory group, but maybe they'll read it with fresh eyes. Anyway, hope you enjoy it, time to jump in at the deep end.

Chapter one - Search

Nathaniel Drakkon sat in one of the libraries in the Mystic Tower of Ataya. With a sigh he turned the page of the large book he was searching through. Looking up from the book, he noticed the candle on the table was getting low. He had been here for a long time, and was having little luck finding the answers he was searching for. Stroking his beard thoughtfully he read over the pages before him then continued on. Then he felt a presence. Looking towards the door, Nathaniel saw the Mage Lord enter and walk towards him. No wonder really, thought Nathaniel, I’m the only one here.

Stopping beside the table at which Nathaniel sat, the grey robed Mage Lord cleared his throat and said “Ah, Nathaniel. Would you walk with me? I want to talk with you.”

Nathaniel nodded and replied “Of course my lord.” Standing up from the chair, he extinguished the flame of the candle and walked out of the room, following the Mage Lord. They walked along a corridor, heading away from the library. Nathaniel decided to speed up the conversation so he could get back to his work “So what can I do for you my lord?”

The Mage Lord was an Elf, and as they walked together the differences in their stature and build was apparent despite the robes they wore and the hooded cloak which Nathaniel had wrapped around him. Nathaniel remembered this Mage Lord’s name. They had met before he was sure, and he was called Vanel Rathalie. Speaking quietly he said “It seems you’ve been looking into something of a mystery Nathaniel.”

Nathaniel Drakkon, his face shaded by the hood of his black cloak replied “Yes my lord. There is just something about mysteries and conspiracies which intrigues me. I feel I cannot rest until I solve them, or bring them into the light of truth.”

“You believe that truth is always light?” Vanel asked.

Nathaniel nodded once “Oh yes, undoubtedly. You see darkness is where these things hide.”

This of course prompted another question from Vanel “What things?

Nathaniel answered as he walked “Many things my lord, lies, secrets, mysteries, conspiracies, fears, hatreds, tragedies and torments. It is our duty to shine the light of truth upon them, so that they are seen for what they are. Surely we all seek truth in our own way?”

Vanel Rathalie seemed distracted “Hmm? Oh, yes, truth, of course. It is our duty as you say.” The words seemed hollow though, and it caught Nathaniel’s attention.

They continued walking, across the smooth stone floor of the tower, and found themselves nearer the outer edge of the tower where the corridors began to curve.

Using his index finger Vanel pushed a strand of his blond hair away from his face and said “Well be careful with your search, looking in dark places can often lead to a bad end.”

Nathaniel was irked by this statement. He knew what he was doing. As he began to think about it, Vanel Rathalie’s words seemed more and more arrogant and condescending. Still he answered politely to hide his annoyance “Of course lord Rathalie. Experience has taught me to always be careful.”

Vanel nodded and replied “Yes. Perhaps you should get some rest, you look tired. You’ll find more answers if you are alert enough to see them.”

Nathaniel smiled and said “Yes. I will take my leave of you and retire to my quarters. Goodnight my lord.”

Vanel said “Goodnight Nathaniel.” Then, just as Drakkon began to leave the Mage Lord raised a questioning hand and asked “You are housed in the city of Ataya, are you not?”

Nathaniel replied curtly “Yes.” Then he turned a corner and began to descend the many stairs of the tower.

It took him close to two hours to reach the building where he owned a room. Spending much of his time in Ataya it made sense to have somewhere to stay, even though he had an estate of his own up north in Crint. Opening the door Nathaniel stepped inside the smallish room, and lit a candle which hung on the wall to the right of the door. The room was filled by this light, and Nathaniel looked around seeing all was the way he had left it. When he first purchased the room he had an argument with the landlord about the maids cleaning his room, moving his possessions. While it might seem foolish or trivial to them, he was a mage. He had many things which would be dangerous to those unused to magic. Putting such thoughts aside, he sat down in a sturdy chair beside his desk to plan out his schedule for the next few days. After all, it seemed this mystery of his would take him away from Ataya if he were to find the answer to it. There was much to be done before he could sleep tonight.

Chapter two - Four

Nathaniel woke with a start, and then slowly craned his neck towards the window, seeing the sun pouring through. It was still early. He had gotten some sleep, more than he had hoped, but less than he truly needed. As he got ready, he tidied the room, moving several books which lay strewn across the desk back to the bookcase where they belonged. The last one he picked up was one he had been reading casually before the mystery had been brought to his attention. It was entitled ‘The land of Ahm-Shere’. Nathaniel had looked at the book with great interest when he first found it, as he had often thought about travelling to other lands. He had never actually left Weissland. Ahm-Shere was a desert land to the far west of the known world, and from what little detail was actually given in the book, seemed full of adventure and interest. Putting the book on the shelf, Nathaniel noted how small it was compared to books about other lands he had read. It appeared to Nathaniel that perhaps the author had only visited Ahm-Shere briefly, and was only scratching the surface.

With his musette bag packed, he made the bed and then left the room, locking the door behind him. He slipped the key into a leather pouch attached to his belt as he walked along the corridor, down the broad wooden stairs and out into the streets of Ataya. He was heading for the nearby stables, to retrieve his horse and begin his journey. Walking along the cobbled streets he was deep in thought, and barely registered that someone was calling his name.

The man shouted again, moving as quickly as he could through the crowds of people walking to and fro “Nathaniel, hoi, Nath!”

Finally Nathaniel Drakkon did hear the voice, and he turned in the direction of the sound. He nodded and smiled as he saw who was calling him. He waited for the man to catch up to him. Then Nathaniel said “Marcus, I almost didn’t hear you, which isn’t usual for someone as loud spoken as you are normally.”

Marcus stood against a nearby wall catching his breath from what could only have been a run of ten metres, if that. Too much fine wine, food and womanising and no exercise no doubt, thought Nathaniel. Even with so many bad habits Marcus still looked to have a slim build, being slightly shorter than Nathaniel as well. Nathaniel imagined that Marcus and his brother Arthan would have gotten on swimmingly together as they had such similar traits. That was the first time he had thought about his deceased brother for a while, and he frowned visibly at the notion. Marcus finally responded with his usual cheeriness and his inability to be fazed by any insult “Well, the louder I am the more attention I receive. What’s wrong with a little joy might I ask you Nathaniel?”

Nathaniel rolled his eyes “Oh nothing. But there are limits on how much joy a man can take before the world decides its time for some sorrow. What I wonder is just how much of a debt you want to build up before your turn is over.”

Marcus laughed, and stopped leaning against the wall. He straightened his robes and bowed slightly at some women passing by “A fine morning is it not ladies?” The women rolled their eyes as well. Obviously Marcus was not having one of his better days. Turning back to Nathaniel Marcus said “Nathaniel, I’ve been your friend for how long? Fourteen years--”

“--Sixteen years.” Nathaniel corrected.

Marcus nodded “Sixteen years, and in all this time I’ve rarely seen you happy. You need to lighten up my friend.”

Nathaniel nodded with a sarcastic expression on his face “Yes, yes. Or perhaps other people need to darken their mood a bit. I find that life is so less of a disappointment if you don’t have high expectations of it.” Marcus Krandor was a simple mage like Nathaniel. In fact they had begun their training at the same time and quickly formed an alliance of sorts with another mage in training. The three became fast friends and still were to this day. Nathaniel asked “Have you seen Jessa recently?” Jessa Aeris was the third member of their trio and it was Nathaniel’s opinion that she was the most powerful of the group as well.

Marcus answered “Yes, I saw her yesterday at the tower. I’m surprised you have not seen her more often than me Nathaniel.”

Nathaniel motioned for Marcus to walk with him towards the stables as he replied “No. I’ve been rather busy lately and now I’m going away for a while. It will likely be a week or more before I return to Ataya. I just wondered where she was.”

Marcus laughed, sidestepping a patrol of soldiers and said “Nathaniel, I’m sure you’ll run into her eventually. It’s not like you two spend much time apart. You’re always getting into some life or death situation together. Then I come along and save you both. I am, after all, widely regarded as a very powerful mage. I’m sure I’ll be a mage lord in a year or two.”

Nathaniel rounded a corner, seeing the stables at the far end of this thoroughfare. He said in a mocking tone “You’re having delusions of grandeur again.”

Marcus said with a wide grin on his face “Well if you’re going to have delusions, you may as well go for the really satisfying ones.”

Both men laughed and continued on down the street. As they reached the stable, Nathaniel caught the attention of the stable master as he went about his business, and the man pointed to the third stable on the left. This was where Nathaniel’s horse had been stabled, so he headed over. Nathaniel began to say “Well Marcus. I suppose I’ll see you and Jessa when--”

Marcus cut in “--What? I’m going with you Nathaniel. You’ll get yourself killed without me.”

Nathaniel was about to tell his friend to leave, but taking a moment to think, he relented “Ok, you can come with me. I could use some help, but I’m just as likely to end up dead with you there as if you stay behind.”

Marcus ignored the playful jab, or simply was not paying attention “I’ll go get my horse, it’s around here somewhere. I swear, I lose more horses here than coin at the tavern.” He wandered off with that same cheerful expression which seemed almost permanently fixed on his face. As Marcus walked away to discuss the whereabouts of his horse with the stable-hands, he ruffled his short, curly brown hair and looked up at the sky, which by now was bright blue without a cloud to be seen.

Nathaniel turned back to preparing his horse, leading the sandy-coloured animal out of the stable and placing the saddle across its back. He was just finishing fastening it up when he heard the clip-clop of a horse walking slowly passed. But then it stopped, just behind him and he heard the voice “Not leaving without me are you Nathaniel?”

Turning around sharply Nathaniel Drakkon looked at the woman leading the horse by the reins. He said flustered “Jessa I... how did you know I was going anywhere?”

Jessa blinked slowly, a smile creeping across her face like the first rays of dawn’s light. She replied “For all Marcus’ more questionable traits he seems to have a preternatural sense for when his friends are going to get into trouble. He spoke to me last night at the tower of Ataya, after asking around about you. He found out you were leaving and told me about it. I’m coming with you as well.”

Nathaniel scowled slightly “I don’t think that is wise. You should stay here. I’ll be gone for two weeks most likely. I’d rather you were here.”

Jessa shook her head, and her long red hair flowed as she did so. “Nathaniel, regardless of what you say I’m going with you. Be a dear and just continue getting ready.”

Nathaniel Drakkon finished preparing his horse, and closing the stable door behind as he led the horse away, saying with a distant look in his eye “I planned to undertake this journey alone. Now I find there are four of us going.”

Jessa looked at him questioningly “There are only three of us Nathaniel. What do you mean?”

Nathaniel answered with a wry smile “You, Marcus, me, and loyalty. Thank you for coming Jessa, I couldn’t ask for better friends.”

Nathaniel saw Jessa roll her eyes visibly at the statement. She replied “You are so overly sentimental at times Nathaniel. It’s quite embarrassing.”

Nathaniel grumbled “Yes, yes, very funny.” With that he clambered onto his horse and they began to walk slowly towards where Marcus had finally found his horse.

Once they left the stables, they rode as quickly as they could through the steadily increasing busyness of the streets of the huge city of Ataya. Marcus had been born here, and so was used to its size, the hustle and bustle of its population, but Nathaniel had never gotten used to it, in all his time here. Nathaniel had been born in Crint, far to the north-east of Ataya. While Crint was a city itself, it was much smaller than Ataya. Eventually they left the city behind, and so for a couple of hours they rode hard up the north road, the others following in Nathaniel’s wake. Jessa brought her horse up fast to the side of Nathaniel and called across to him “So where are we going?”

Nathaniel turned to her, still riding quickly, his robes flowing as they rushed against the wind. He called back, raising his voice to be heard “We are travelling north to a small town some distance south of Adae. The town is called Aunel and something strange has been happening there.”

As they continued on their way Jessa asked “What has been happening?”

Nathaniel smiled, almost mischievously “All will be revealed in the fullness of time Jessa Aeris. All in the fullness of time.” It would take three days of travel to reach Aunel, so they would make as much haste in the first day as possible. That way Nathaniel was sure they would reach Aunel in the early morning of the third day, instead of the late afternoon.


That night they stopped off at an Inn along the north road which led from Ataya into other parts of Weissland. It was here, with the soft light of candles, and the warm feeling of good food and malt whisky, that Nathaniel would tell the others of this mystery he was investigating. As he sipped at the warming drink he said “I hear things, often just second-hand information, or rumour from wherever I find myself. But these things catch my attention, and I look into them. Some are quickly proven to be nothing but exaggerated stories, but others require more research to discover the truth of the matter. And that is what brings me to Aunel.”

Marcus flung back his drink, wiping his arm across his lips afterwards. He said “So what is happening there Nath?”

Nathaniel looked at Marcus, and then at Jessa, leaning in closer so nobody would overhear “People are disappearing there. At first it was assumed that it was some raider attack, but these are not attacks. No dead bodies have been found and no sign of combat, nobody has seen any attackers either. I’m going to find out what is happening there, and hopefully stop it. Even if lord Rathalie and others think it’s dangerous.”

Jessa took a sip of the tall glass of red wine she held and then asked “Lord Rathalie? The mage lord? You’ve spoken with him about this?”

Nathaniel shook his head “Not exactly. Mage lord Vanel Rathalie came to speak with me last night in the tower of Ataya while I was searching the records for any other strange occurrences around Aunel. I did not tell him what I was investigating, although he knew I was looking into some mystery and he warned me to be careful.”

Jessa looked at Nathaniel with a wide-eyed expression “Vanel Rathalie is one of the foremost experts in the use of elemental magic. I’ve been hoping to speak with him to get some extra training in the elemental form. I’ve heard it said that if he takes an interest in a mage they are often marked out for greater things. You should be honoured Nathaniel, for him to think of your welfare like that.”

Nathaniel narrowed his eyes slightly “I’m not so sure about that. I got a strange feeling when he was talking to me. Almost as if he was warning me away from this investigation for some other reason. As if he... never mind. We should get some rest, we’ve still got more than a days worth of travelling to get through before we reach Aunel.”

With that the three mages retired to their rooms upstairs in the Inn. Morning was still many hours away, and Nathaniel would need all his strength for what he would uncover, even if he did not truly know it yet.

Chapter three - The Truth

Morning came after a fitful night of troubled sleep. Nathaniel woke early, looking from the window of the Inn’s room to see the light crawling across the ground outside. He dressed quickly and made sure he was ready to leave. He put on the black, hooded robe which he normally wore, along with a leather belt which contained a multitude of pouches and containers. He fastened the scabbard of his sword to the belt and then threw the hood up over his head, covering much of his face. Nathaniel headed down into the bar of the Inn, finding it empty apart from those who worked at the Inn. He took a seat in a corner, content to sit alone and think. In time Jessa walked into the room, striding over to him in that same confident manner which often turned heads when she entered a room and sat down. Nathaniel began to say “I--”

At just the same moment Jessa ventured “Ma--” They both stopped, and Jessa said “You first.”

Nathaniel shook his head slowly, still thinking deeply “No, go on.”

Jessa nodded for the courtesy and said “Marcus will be down in around an hour, or so he claims.” She carefully checked her hair with her left hand, making sure it was in place. Jessa’s hair was a fiery red and while yesterday it had been in a loose ponytail, the speed with which they had ridden had prompted her to tie it back more tightly. Still Jessa was a beautiful woman with a stylish elegance and had tied her hair in a double braid which sat neatly and impeccably on top of either side of her head.

Nathaniel scowled slightly and said “I knew it was a bad idea bringing him along. An hour lost could lead to more disappearances before we arrive at Aunel. Daylight is burning fast.”

Jessa smiled lightly “Perhaps, but if these disappearances are leaving so few clues then we might not prevent them even by our presence in Aunel. You’ve said it before Nathaniel, mysteries do not solve themselves, and true puzzles do not reveal their solutions on a cursory glance.”

Nathaniel raised an eyebrow in amusement “So you’re quoting me now? Not one of my best, but it will suffice. There are a few things I could quote you on Jessa, but most involve language not befitting of nobility such as yourself, certainly not lady-like.”

Jessa narrowed her eyes mockingly at Nathaniel “Are you accusing me of using foul language Nathaniel? Because I do not.”

Nathaniel leant back in his chair, tapping his fingers off the wooden table as he responded “Oh, really? I seem to remember a rather foul piece of oratory on the subject of Orcs.”

Jessa placed her hand firmly on top of Nathaniel’s to stop him drumming his fingers on the table and get his full attention “I thought we agreed to never discuss that matter ever again.”

Nathaniel smiled wryly “Did we? Well, never mind then.”


Once all three mages were ready they mounted up and set out on the road again. It would be a full day of travelling this day, and there was no Inn where they would be stopping. Luckily they had brought bedrolls, blankets and other camping kit with them.

The day passed slowly, each hour bringing them closer to Aunel. Nathaniel spent much of the time deep in thought, remembering everything he had read in the library at the tower about the town of Aunel. Its history was short, but detailed thankfully. But still, despite a few small-scale raids on the town as well as a relatively minor skirmish between a force of Weissland soldiers and the raiders, very little had ever happened in the sleepy little town. It was referred to locally as the Great Battle of Aunel Field, a rather grandiose title given that less than one hundred men took part in it including both sides and casualties were minimal before the raiders threw down arms. Nathaniel knew that it was mostly a farming community which had grown up around the homes of several farmers and a mill. As far as Nathaniel could find in the archives, nothing of this nature had happened here before, although he did find a similar spate of disappearances far, far, to the north, in Cirulienalysai. They were never solved, but stopped after the twelfth disappearance. This was a little over sixty years ago. If the two events were linked, it meant Nathaniel only had a short time to discover the cause of this problem and stop it, as six individuals had already disappeared in Aunel, and no telling if more had disappeared since they had left Ataya.

They stopped off to eat some food and let the horses rest for a while, and as Nathaniel took the reins of his horse and led it off of the road into the countryside beyond, Marcus asked “Is it just me or does the road seem rather empty?”

Jessa replied casually “It’s probably just because you are used to the city, you feel odd when there are not hundreds of people about.”

Marcus nodded, saying “I suppose, but still the road seems empty.”

Nathaniel stopped, looking back onto the road, first to the north and then turning around to look to the south. He furrowed his brow questioningly, although the others could not see it due to the black hood. Finally he said “Marcus is right.”

To which Marcus said in equal measures of exclamation and question “I am?”

Nathaniel quickly tied the reins of his horse to a nearby tree and motioned for Marcus and Jessa to do the same. As he moved in amongst the scrub and trees, he placed a hand lightly on the hilt of his sword. It was just a simple arming sword, with nothing remarkable about its design or craftsmanship, but it felt reassuring to know he had it. He knew all too well that sometimes two and a half feet of steel was quicker than a spell. He left his staff fastened amongst the packs on his horse, as he had a feeling it would not be necessary yet. Looking back at the horse as it stood waiting, he could see the staff. It was long and thin, made of a sturdy, black, polished wood which made it seem like obsidian to all but touch. Near the top the staff tapered out into a wider head, which had been carved to look like two dragon wings entwined. If you looked at the staff from the right angle there was a gap between the wings, where you could see a piece of ivory carved like a sword embedded in the centre of the staff.

Jessa began to ask “What are we--”

Nathaniel raised a finger to his lips and said “Shush, just listen.”

They listened for a few moments, and Nathaniel’s concern was proven correct. They all heard the thundering hooves coming up the road from the south, although they could not see the riders yet. Jessa wondered “Cavalry perhaps? Or at least someone that is in a hurry. But why should we be hiding here from them Nathaniel?”

Nathaniel quickly said “Everyone else we’ve seen on the road since leaving the Inn has been taking their time, while we rode hard to reach our destination. This stretch of the road is most often used by merchants, traders, farmers and others in no real haste. Even the soldiers travelling south that we passed earlier were marching slowly. I just have the strange feeling that whoever is barrelling up the road is doing so to catch up with us. Be ready both of you, be wary, and perhaps the truth shall be revealed to us, even if it is just a glimpse of it.” Nathaniel’s hand never strayed from the hilt of his sword as the riders came closer and closer with each passing second. Soon they would be in sight. Soon things should become clearer, Nathaniel hoped.

Chapter four - In all Things

The thundering hooves of the horses became louder, and as the horses came into view, the three mages saw the cloud of dust and spray of mud which was flung up by their passing. The riders were cloaked, hooded and with cloth covering their mouths and noses, leaving few clues as to their identity. Beneath the cloaks, Nathaniel spied the glint of chainmail. These were no farmers, of that he was sure. Concealed as he was, Nathaniel was sure the men would not see him or the others, but would soon notice the horses when they rounded the slight curve of the road. He held his breath, pulling his arming sword ever so slightly loose from the scabbard.

Just as he was steeling himself to jump out at the ten riders, the lead rider pulled on the reins and held up his hand sharply. All of the riders stopped and looked around, some asking in hushed tones why they had stopped. Nathaniel kept still, and listened, the riders only a few feet from the trees and bushes which covered his position. The lead rider turned to the others and said “We should have caught up to them by now, our horses were fresher than theirs, and they don’t know we are after them.”

One of the other riders asked “What do we do now Bram? Go on, or tell the boss we lost ‘em?”

The leader, Bram Nathaniel assumed, answered “You want to go tell him Will? Go back then, and we’ll be finding a hole to drop your corpse in once he’s finished with you.”

The one called Will replied moodily “Was just sayin’. No need to snap. So what do we do then?”

Some of the others mumbled similar questions, and Bram said with a harsh tone “We ride on, reach Aunel. Perhaps they’ve pressed on and not stopped yet. No need to go worrying the boss without any information. He wants to know what they’re up to, and stop ‘em if they get too nosey.” The group of riders were about to move on, when one of the horses Nathaniel and the others had brought began making noise. Almost at once the men knew that it was not one of their horses, as they were all quiet. Bram shouted “What? Damn them!” He began to draw a sword, and several others did the same.

Seeing the chance of hiding was past, Nathaniel drew his arming sword in a quick, fluid motion and broke cover. He charged at the nearest rider, and stabbed him in the side before the man could draw a weapon. Nathaniel would have likely died there, if he had been alone, but Marcus and Jessa were quick to attack as well. As Jessa stepped clear of the tree-line she produced a finely crafted throwing dagger from her close-fitting riding clothes, the vermillion cloak she wore flowing lightly in the breeze, and taking aim she threw it at a rider turning to attack Nathaniel. The blade struck the man in the neck. He reached up instinctively to the blade protruding from his throat, but as his open hand began to close on the wooden handle, his hand seized up and shook before he fell backwards from the saddle of his horse. It had simply taken him a few moments to truly realise that he was a dead man. Marcus on the other hand raised a sword in one hand and pointed at one of the men with his other, incanting a spell. The rider dropped his weapon, and seemed to convulse in pain, then suddenly he vomited up water, retching and spluttering. His horse, rather angered by being thrown up on, threw the rider to the ground and ran off into the fields away from the others. The man was still throwing up, trying to clear the water which Marcus had filled his lungs with. Nathaniel noticed this take place, and smiled slightly as he withdrew his sword from the now dead rider and parried the downward strike from the next rider to come close. He thought to himself about Marcus’ use of magic, musing that while Marcus was loath to kill someone without good cause, he had the sense to incapacitate foes in less lethal ways.

Nathaniel parried twice more against his mounted opponent, then using a move his father had taught him, sidestepped as the man brought his sword-arm down, overreaching, and Drakkon grabbed his extended arm, pulling him from the saddle and turning to plunge his sword into the man’s back in one motion. Nathaniel smacked the horse with his free hand making the creature run forward, getting in the way of the riders at the front of the group, who were trying to turn and engage him. Speaking quickly, Nathaniel cast a spell at two of the men at the back of the group, an illusion which convinced each of them that the other was one of the enemy mages. Each raised their swords, and brutally set about their foe. After a short duel, lacking in anything which could be considered skill with a blade, and focussing purely on killing, one of the riders slumped forward dead in the saddle, the illusion only disappearing upon death. The other rider pulled out his sword, confused by what had happened, only to have his sword-arm sliced at the bicep by Marcus, then run through before he could fight back.

Jessa drew out her weapon, a curved blade, a katana, with a single jewel mounted on the crossbar of the hilt, and a tapered piece of satin attached to the pommel which twisted and floated as she moved the weapon. It was elegant and flowing, much like Jessa Aeris herself. Parry, block and riposte followed, with another of the riders dying and falling from the saddle, one leg still caught there like a fly in a spider’s web.

One of the riders that had been beside the leader saw the others being slain and instead of trying to move through the pack of horses on the confines of the road, which despite the open fields was blocked in places by hedges and wooden fences, jumped down from the saddle and lunged at Jessa. He was a brute of a man, and made massive strokes with a sword as if it was a mace. Jessa found herself parrying and backing away, with no chance to strike back. Then, as she reached the edge of the road, she tripped and fell backwards. The man’s last stroke missed her head by mere inches. He raised the sword again, but before he could bring it down, Nathaniel was there. Speaking a simple three word phrase, Nathaniel used his magic to raise the man two feet in the air, turn him towards him and hold him there, helpless. Nathaniel saw Jessa scramble back to her feet out of the corner of his eye, and once she was safely out of the way, he turned back to the man with a baleful gaze. He took his arming sword, drew back and then plunged the weapon into the man’s gut, to the hilt, then turned the blade ninety degrees to the left, before withdrawing the weapon. Then he let the spell end. The wound was horrific, and blood and entrails poured forth like water from a vase. The man crumpled to the ground in the bloody mess of his own innards. Nathaniel looked at the quickly dying man and said coldly “I have no mercy for you.”

Then a shadow fell on Nathaniel, as Bram began to bring his sword across at neck height to decapitate the mage. Before Drakkon could react Jessa raised her arm outstretched, palm open and spoke words of power. Bram was hurled backwards with such force that he flew clear over the horses and landed with a sickening squelch, impaled on one of the wooden fence posts. The last rider fled back down the road as quickly as he could, and Marcus was about to bring him down, but Nathaniel raised his hand and waved him off. He looked at the body of Bram, sliding slightly further onto the post, and then turned to Jessa and said “I would have liked the leader alive Jessa, but I’d much rather keep my head attached to my shoulders. Thank you, I’m in your debt.”

Jessa looked at the pool of blood and guts around the dead body of the other rider and then looked into Nathaniel’s eyes. She replied “Nonsense Nathaniel, I merely repaid the favour.”

Nathaniel smiled and then took out a cloth to wipe the blood from his blade and put it away in its scabbard. The others did the same as they walked over to the man Marcus had incapacitated with his spell, keeping their distance as the man still brought up quantities of water every now and then. Nathaniel was the first to speak “We’ll wait until he’s finished, and then we’ll see what he has to say for himself. You showed good foresight there Marcus, I’m glad you came with me.”

Marcus nodded with a smile “Thanks Nath. You really upped your game there; I’ve never seen you so driven in a fight.”

Nathaniel looked at his friend and said “Well, my father always told me to strive to do everything in my power, to do the best in all things, especially love and honour. I think I finally realised what he meant when I saw Jessa fall.” Before the others could reply, he quickly said “Now let’s see what we can learn from this bastard.”

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