Conversations in the Sky

It is a warm evening in Amberfall as the rains wash over the city, blanketed by the glow of the setting sun. The Amberglow is full effect for everyone still walking the streets of city. Clambering road vendors hastily shelter their goods and tavern goers stand in awe with their ales at hand as Mithron’s gaze simmers through the rain drops causing a cascade of colour to fill the sky as the sun beams through the stained windows of the glass towers dotting the illustrious Glass Quarter.

‘It is so beautiful, isn’t it grandmother?’

Little Aeliana, a daughter of House Emberheart, is reluctant to climb in to bed as she stands on the balcony of her bedroom window looking up to the sky. The Amberglow doesn’t happen very often and she wants to take it all in.

‘It is my dear but I think it’s time you got back into bed now. You wouldn’t want your uncle to rile himself up into a temper again, would you?’

Lady Isabelle Emberheart, mother to the late Lord Lothar Emberheart, is sitting patiently on the edge of her granddaughter’s bed.

Aeliana sighs. ‘It doesn’t seem to take much for him to get mad these days.’

‘I know but try to remember, he is a busy man with much to do. Our baroness has taken up quite a bit of his time lately and it is his duty as the head of our House to see that we do our part to aid the war effort.’

‘The Dothylfar, they won’t be coming here will they grandmother?’ she asks as she clambers into bed, becoming quite cosy between her emerald coloured sheets.

‘Very doubtful. The war is far too the east but there is still much that needs to be done. It is not for us to sit idle whilst our countrymen fight valiantly to defend Ayrlaston.’

Aeliana pushes her sheets aside and sits up eagerly, grasping her grandmothers hand as she stares intently into her palm.

‘I hope they do come here.’

Isabelle is a little confused by her granddaughter’s odd desire. ‘Really? Why is that?’

With vigour in her voice and a prideful gleam in her eyes, Aeliana positions herself upright as if she were delivering a message to the people of the city.

‘Command the Silver Legion to stand aside and let the Bloody Horde march to the gates of Amberfall! Then they shall suffer the wrath of Isabelle Pyremane, the greatest pyromancer in the history of House Emberheart.’

Isabelle chuckles to herself as she ushers Aeliana back under the covers.

‘I see you’ve been listening in on meetings tended by grown-ups where little girls ought not find themselves. Anyway, I think your great, great grandfather would have had something to say about that proclamation my dear.’

‘Lucien Emberheart? I’ve read about him but I have seen what you can do. Those burglars never stood a chance when you turned the embers in our fireplace into a flaming wolf. They were so startled when you sent it charging toward them. It was spectacular!’

Isabelle gently presses her finger onto the tip of Aeliana’s nose. ‘You weren’t frightened?’

‘I was.’ 

Aeliana responds by playfully pressing her own finger onto Isabelle’s nose, giggling as she does.

‘But I always feel safe when I am with you.’

‘That is kind of you to say dear, however, I hope to never see you placed into such a dangerous situation as to have to do anything like that again. I would happily trade away all of my fire magicks if it meant you would grow up never knowing the horrors of this world.’

Aeliana looks into the misty eyes of her grandmother and smiles as Isabelle caresses her cheek.

‘I know but if the Dothylfar burst into this room right now, you would burn their bloody bones to dust, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you grandmother?!’

‘Aeliana!? Such language, you surprise me.’

Isabelle tries her best to give her granddaughter a disapproving grimace but she can’t help but smile at her exuberant attitude toward the line of fire magicks running through her House lineage.

‘You bloody bet I would’ she quips as they giggle to each other.

Aeliana squints as she looks out of her open window to see that the Amberglow amidst the gentle rains has all but come to an end. The sky is now almost pitch black but for the stars and a stream of purple light in the distance.

‘Do you know what my own grandmother once told me?’ asks Isabelle.

‘Don’t yell out whilst sitting in the court of the baroness and sit still’ responds Aeliana hastily.

‘They sound more like your uncle’s words to me.’

Aeliana nods with a huff as she has become all too familiar with that phrase.

Isabelle continues. ‘Once she told me, on a warm evening just like this as she was putting me to bed, that you can tell which of the gods are talking to each other just by looking up at the colours of the sky.’

‘Really!?’

‘Yes.’

‘Wow! The sky is purple and black so who is talking right now?’

‘Well, a black sky is to be expected. The sun has set over the Summerpeak Mountains after all. When the night veil shrouds the sky, the Aeons, Samaia and Ashyara, begin to talk to each other as they do every night. But we have a bit of purple on the horizon don’t we so who do you suppose has popped in for a visit?’

Aeliana thinks hard as she tries to recall her lessons about the gods and their influence upon the world of Ayl’gard.

‘Erm, is it Mithron?’

‘I’m afraid not. Mithron is the god of the sun so he only appears during the day. At night, he rests so that his sisters may rise. Have another guess.’

‘Is it Siroth? Lucrecia? No, is it Amon?’

‘Three guesses eh? Cheeky girl.’

Isabelle moves in closer as she points to the purple hue in the sky.

‘It is Lucrecia, she has joined her sisters for a little gathering.’

‘That sounds delightful.’

‘I dare say it is. Perhaps they will have tea and cakes.’

‘And raspberry jam on toast?’

‘And raspberry jam on toast.’

Aeliana pauses for a moment to think further about the last few nights and the colours she saw in the sky whilst trying her best not to become distracted by thoughts of tomorrow mornings breakfast.

‘Last night, there was a bit of green as the sun set I think. Who would that be?’

‘Green? That could only be Ysana, goddess of the rivers, the forest and all that dwell within.’

‘What if it is orange? Like it was last week when you took me to the Festival of Summers End?’

‘Ah yes, I remember that. Your uncle tried to scold me for letting you stay up so late’ Isabelle says with a knowing grin.

‘I reminded him of the time I took him to that same festival when he was your age. He soon shut up about it.’

Aeliana delights in the knowledge of her uncle’s childhood, which she has heard little about up to this point.

‘Regardless, orange means fire. It represents the roaring flames of the twin gods of war…’

‘That would be Kohnar and…. erm!’

‘Come on Aeliana, you know this. I mentioned them last week when I read to you that story from our library.’

‘Kohnar and Morighan’ Aeliana responds as quickly as her memory will allow.

‘Precisely. Well done.’

‘What if it is still a little blue? A deep blue like from the sea, is that Maellor?’

‘Excellent my dear. Using your good common sense, are we? That’s my girl.’

‘And if it is red, like blood, the sky is bleeding as Moloch has emerged from his eternal tomb. Is that right?’

Isabelle stops for a moment, rendered speechless by her granddaughter’s words as her skin prickles and the colour drains from her face ever so slightly.

‘Where did you learn that Aeliana? Answer me!’ demands Isabelle sharply.

Aeliana sinks slowly into her bed sheets. ‘Did I say something I shouldn’t have grandmother? I’m sorry.’

Isabelle embraces her granddaughter, wrapping her arms around her to reassure her whilst scolding herself with a sigh for reacting so firmly.

‘You haven’t said a word that I would consider to be wrong my dear. You just, what you said took me by surprise. The name you just mentioned, Moloch. It is one that I haven’t heard in many years.’

‘Cousin Tristan told me about him. That he was once a brother to the gods until he betrayed them.’

‘Your cousin is correct but that shan’t stop me having words with the little imbecile! There is a reason Moloch is referred to as the dead god. His name and everything that was once associated with him was buried, along with his followers, many thousands of years ago. By bringing his name back from the ether of the Hollow Plane, we breathe life into a dark, very distant memory. One that ought to be left forgotten.’

‘Spooky!’ says Aeliana with wide eyes.

‘One day, when you are much older, I’ll tell you all that I know of the Treacherous One. Right now, it is time to go to sleep.’

‘Very well grandmother.’

Aeliana jostles with the covers as she lays her head upon the soft pillow whilst her grandmother begins to dim the candlelight in the room, one by one.

Isabelle lays her hand upon her granddaughter’s head before she leaves. ‘Good night Aeliana. I’ll come and wake you in the morning. I’m taking you to the city market and we’ll pick up some of that raspberry jam that you like so much.’

Aeliana beams with a smile as she struggles to contain her excitement. ‘Can I ask one last question before you go?’

‘One last question. What is it?’

‘What does it mean when the sky is pink?’

‘Pink? Well, that is colour your cousin’s cheeks will turn once I’m finished slapping some sense into that dim-witted fool of a boy who thinks he can fill my granddaughters head with such nonsense.’

‘Is there a little pink in the sky right now grandmother?’

Isabelle walks over to the opening overlooking the balcony and gently closes the stained-glass windows before slowly drawing the curtains shut.

‘Why yes Aeliana, I believe there is.’

The Shrew, The Owl and the Final Vow

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.

Remnants of a Shadowmancer

‘Where is he now, Guardian?’

The Arch Magister’s words echo loudly across the halls and through the wings of the now almost entirely vacant Citadel. All mages, merchants, scholars and any whose rank does not read Guardian or Magister have been confined to their quarters, for their own protection.

‘He’s been taken down below, by order of the Commander.’

‘And is he secure?’

‘Yes, Arch Magister. The captive mage’s hands have been bound in iron, he’s blindfolded, his mouth gagged shut and there are two Guardians down there with him now.’

‘Take me to him, now’ demands the Arch Magister, unblinking and determined.

The unwilling Guardian hesitates where he stands and bows his head slightly.

‘Is there a problem?’

‘I’m sorry, Arch Magister, the Guardian Commander has given strict instruction to not let anyone else below without his say so.’

The Guardian bows his head a little lower as the intimidating presence of the Arch Magister looms over him with a glare that would petrify even an Ogre of the Highlands.

‘That man has come here, broken into this institution, our home, to steal from our Reliquary and has killed four of our own people in the process before he was finally apprehended by two Senior Magisters. My people, dear friends, who lie bleeding and with their minds broken with unknowable torment for their efforts.’

The Arch Magister is now so close to the frightened Guardian that his breath can be seen steaming his armour with vapours of unbridled resolve.

‘By the Kings edict, it is the duty of the Arch Magisters of the Aeon Citadel to pass judgement on all matters of magick as well as this murderer’s ability to do us any more harm. So, move Guardian, or I swear by almighty Mithron that the fire coursing through my veins will burn your very tongue into ashes so that I might never have to hear the utter wolf shit coming out of your mouth again.’

‘Yes, yes…. of course, Arch Magister, but the Commander will…….’

‘Just leave the Commander to me Guardian. I’ll deal with him in due time.’

The Arch Magister of the Citadel, esteemed pyromancer and former counsel to King Valorayne, barges past the poor fellow who just weeks ago earned his position amongst his peers and marches down into the bowels of the ancient tower to confront the one responsible for this bold act of merciless death. An act so bloody and brutal to be worthy of a Dothylfar war band and yet it was perpetrated by a single individual.

The memory of what has become of the unfortunate four, two mages, a scholar and a single Guardian, will be with him until his final days. Their bodies were mutilated and torn down to the bone as they were discovered covered in a thick, black coat of shadow mist and blood. A dark deed done only to acquire a single artefact housed in a floor deemed inaccessible to all but a few. For who it is for and why, he doesn’t care. It is an old argument as to whether this place should act as a beacon to would be thieves and trespassers for all the artefacts and treasures stored within and yet every Valorayne King and Queen for a thousand years has deemed it the safest place to do so. The Citadel has been breached before and it will be again. But rarely is it done with so callous an approach, with so little respect for those who live and breathe within this community of mage folk.

As he proceeds into the depths of the tower he eventually realises that it is too quiet. The orders of the Commander have either been carried out flawlessly or have failed entirely. His pace quickens with the realisation until he reaches his destination a hundred feet below the Citadel grounds.

Ferociously and without hesitance, he bangs opens the door with such a clatter that the gust from the impact almost blows out the torch light blazing on the stone walls. The horrifying stench of burnt flesh invades his senses. His eyes scour the room for their captive but instead he see’s nothing but blood, caked in black ashes, of the dead Guardians tasked with standing watch over the wielder of shadow. No bodies, nothing that resembles what they once were. Just empty armour covered in a pool of dark red blood corrupted by the black of the shadow magicks used to claim their lives.

Footsteps echo down the staircase behind him until the Guardian he spoke to and his Commander enter the room to see what has happened.

‘Why did you leave the torches alight Commander?’ shouts the Arch Magister with a bellow loud enough to cause the question to be demanded several times over as his voice relentlessly repeats his torment with the echoes from the walls.

The Guardian Commander is stunned by the question. Not only is he not used to being addressed in such a severe manner, since only the Arch Magisters have the power to match his own standing, he also fails to understand the significance of the inquiry.

‘Did you really expect me to leave my people here with that man in complete darkness? What does it matter anyhow?’

‘From what I have learned in my time of such magicks it will take someone decades, if not a lifetime or more, of study to wield shadowmancy with such mastery as to conjure the very shadows from practically nothing. The one responsible for these black deeds was a small man, likely an exile from Hammarkand, no older than twenty some years. It should be blatantly obvious to someone in your position of authority that you must not leave one such a that in a room where the light of the fire from those torches can bring forth shadows. Shadows that can be used to twist and corrupt the flames into something unrecognisable. Shadows he was evidently able to wield to end the lives and destroy the bodies of your men. Now he flees to Maellor knows where.’

A moment of hurried contemplation passes as the Arch Magister awaits a response.

‘I’ll order my men to scour the Citadel grounds and the Wraithwind Woods until the shadow wielder is again apprehended.’

‘You’ll do no such thing Commander.’

The Arch Magister turns to the Guardian standing meekly in the entry to bark his next order.

‘You there, in the doorway. Listen carefully to my words boy.’

‘Yes, Arch Magister’ he replies standing to attention.

‘Summon the other Arch Magisters, Xaros and Alden, to meet me in the hall. And send word to Guardian Vanorath that he is to lead his contingent into the woodland to begin the search.’

‘Right away.’

‘Tell them to look for a trail of withered leaves and for fucks sake absolutely no fire! I don’t care if they’re struggling to see. They’ll have to make do with the light of the moons and they can thank me later.’

The Guardian races back to the tower above leaving the Commander behind who is becoming frustrated with this mages desire to command his forces. He has never been one to hold his tongue.

‘Arch Magister, I protest. Thomyr Vanorath is new to the Citadel and completely unprepared for such a task. He is unknown to me, I don’t trust him. He is an outsider.’

‘No Commander, he is your replacement.’

‘I’ll remind you mage, only the Baroness of Amberfall or the King himself are permitted to remove me from command. You haven’t the power to order me to do anything!’ states the Commander with surprise.

The Arch Magister finally turns his head away from the atrocity at their feet to stare directly into the Commander’s eyes.

‘Did you really believe my position here would prevent me acting out my former duties to our King? Who do you think has the true power to command the Guardians while I still breathe? I have his ear and his trust and I’ll tell you now, you incompetent son of whore, it’s not you.’

The Commander sighs as he relents, defeated by his failure and the will of the Arch Magister before him.

‘Will they be able to find him?’

‘For your sake and for the wellbeing of Ayrlaston, I hope so.’

The Arch Magister turns back to look upon the vacant armour of the deceased as his voices calms.

‘For their safety and what I fear he is capable of, I hope not.’