The sun sets upon the ocean horizon with a warming glow and a gentle kiss to the ocean below. The goddess moons of red and white seek to guide the wanderers of night as they sit upon their throne, one made of stars and light.
A single, small village lies at the tip of Hammarkand, far from the trade roads and cities, it is usually very peaceful and quiet. Today though, it is too quiet and deathly calm. Too calm for what is supposed to be a fisherman’s village and one of the final ports of the northern shores that seat the edge of the Altyran Empire. It is not Merstone Wharf by any means, that port city bustles with merchants peddling their wares from all corners of Ayl’gard, but it is does usually stir with enough business to support its hardworking people. For tonight though, the streets are empty, the boats are docked, abandoned and swaying in the breeze. Only the mild howl of the wind would welcome any who venture here on this quiet night. That and the sight of those who now lie dead on the ground.
At the edge of town there is a single route through the forest, a guiding path lit with lamplight to aid travellers. From it, a single shrew leaves its burrow as it peaks its head out to take advantage of this unnaturally quiet situation though even he knows to take a second glance before actually venturing out to find its meal.
It scurries away from its deep, dark home nestled at the base of a great red Alder tree in search of something to eat. Success! A single blue beetle has become trapped and is wriggling incessantly, trying it hardest to escape. A thick pool of blood has seeped over the stone path and into the soil causing half of its body to become encased within a sinking tomb. The shrew cares little for its plight, it desires only to feed and then return to the safety of its dark hole in the ground. With a quick grasp of its prey, the beetle is claimed.
Little does the shrew know however that it is being watched from afar. How could such a simple creature understand that it has entered the domain of this predator? How could it know that its presence, its willingness to dally and feed at the boundary of this forest, is an affront to the owl that has claimed its territory. It remains still and watchful. The piercing stare from its eyes is unrelenting as it waits for the perfect opportunity to attack.
Unaffected by the possibility of being caught and insistent in its pursuit, the shrew carries on and travels onto the border steps of the village as it clambers over the fallen bodies seeking more to eat. It stops for a moment to peer into the gaping mouth of a bronze skinned man still clutching onto several coins in one hand with a firm grasp. A tattered piece of parchment lies just beyond the other that has only a few words written on it.
Seek the Aeons in Amberfall
The shrew does not care for shiny things instead preferring to investigate the strange, moist hole before him as it attempts to burrow into the throat of the dead Mithylfar, albeit to no avail. It will not find what it is looking for there.
A single man stands alone at the edge of the village. He is upright, unmoving, and staring far into the distance as if he is scanning the horizon. His armour consists of the finest steel and cloth. Upon his belt, he has a scroll chained to a silver token depicting the image of Altyr and a symbol of his faith. To the rest of Ayl’gard, Altyr is the god of purity and justice. To any loyal to the Empire he is the only, one true god. A shining guiding light in a dark world to many who have accepted him but he is also a grim symbol, the scourge of all mage folk, a damning ideal that has been the cause of the death of thousands unfortunate to have been born as Aeon blessed within the borders of an Empire that demands purity. His eyes are unwavering, unblinking and his sword, unsheathed with its hilt glimmering with the light of the dying sun, is dripping with blood.
The symbols he carries say more than any words can to those who look upon him. They say he is just, they say he is pure of heart and mind, they say he answers to no one but the authority of the Empress. He is a Judge, one of the Silent Knights sent to cleanse the world of all who fall foul of the gaze of the One God.
He is Judge Alastair Albright, one of the finest knights to ever become one of the Order of the Sworn. A perfect instrument of cleansing and just cause in the eyes of his peers.
Leaning forward, he reaches out to the body beneath him, one whose hand still grasps his boot. It was one final act of pleading that fell deaf upon his ears for there can be no mercy in the eyes of Altyr for any who were born with the ability to conjure magick. With a sharp tug, he tears off the dead woman’s tunic so that he can wipe the blood and muck from his blade leaving her naked body to clatter onto the ground without a single thought toward respect or courtesy. To him, and all loyal to the Empire, she was an abomination. An impure insult to Altyr born cursed, whose only purpose is to die.
She is one of three who fled to escape the wrath of the Sworn Order. Three who bought passage by carriage in the dark of the night as they were brought here to find someone willing to take them across the shores of the sea to Ayrlaston where they might find some semblance of peace and perhaps a life lived without fear. One without the scorn of nation, where the blade of a Judge cannot find them. They tried to be free of their fate only to find a village unwilling to stand in the way of one avowed to rid the world all magicks. They sought a free life but found only death.
There was no chance for words. He did not toy with them or seek to reason with them. A single sword shimmering in the light. Three swift strikes. Three dead mages and his task is complete. There will be no remorse, no regret and no lament for those born only to perish as an example to any who might have mercy in their hearts for these pitiable creatures.
Now the sun is set and the bodies are piled onto a pyre made of wood and flesh. The Judge is satisfied in the fact that justice has been done and his oath has been fulfilled once more as the fire burns away the corruption that once housed such unforgivable transgression. At his feet, he notices the shrew next to him in the soil, oblivious to the fire and smoke as he wrestles the life away from another beetle. Almost contented, the shrew scampers away back to his burrow with its carcass dangling from its jaw.
The flames dance in the night as they burn the fallen into a pile of ash as Judge Alastair stands in the wake of the dead to recite his oath, an unending affirmation to his life’s work.
“I walk the path in the shadow of Daryan. May the dawning order of the One God guide my sword as I act in your name. I wield the fire of your light, the burden of your words and the honour of your blade forever bound by my oath eternal to serve your Creed until my last breath.”
The Judges of the Altyran Empire are known as the Silent Knights for the words spoken in their oaths, their vow to Altyr, are the only words they are permitted to speak. It is known as the Final Vow of a knight deemed worthy of carrying out the work started by Daryan’s crusade to bring order and purity to a world cloaked in chaos and corruption.
The final flames are flickering, the pyre is spent and the villagers are beginning to stir once more now that the Judge has gone. The shrew takes one last look across the edge of the forest on the path to the village. It has feasted well but the beetles are out in their droves tonight and so it cannot resist the tantalising prospect of yet another meal. The moons guide their light to the ground for the shrew to enjoy its supper as it scurries over the soil and grass but as it turns out, it is to be the last decision the shrew will ever make. Swift and soundless is the owl whose unrelenting regard has abetted its yearning to swoop in and claim its prey as the master of the forest.
The owl considers nothing of reason or mercy. A creature born of singular purpose that knows naught of kinship and desires no alliance with its prey. It is a relentless predator honed by instinct to strike as swiftly as it can. It ponders only what it knows which is to chase, kill and live again to hunt another day.