NaNoWriMo 2010: The God Shards

Authors Note:

This was my pathetic attempt at writing “Epic Fantasy” while I still like the world and I think there are some good ideas in here I think the writing is very forced and I’m really not happy with it. I tried to move things along a little too quickly after discovering that I was 20K in and still in the introduction.

The story is really a mechanism to justify the creation story, which I’m not even sure I got a chance to touch upon in what I wrote…

The reason that many words are surrounded by square brackets ‘[‘ ‘]’ is that I wasn’t sure about any of the names I chose and wanted an easy way to find and replace them. I think I know where the next bit of the story was going but after that god only knows… This is due a complete re-write at some point.

Part 1

The city was aflame, why he didn’t care, when [Astrimus] had joined the order he had forsaken the affairs of the common folk, he had a higher purpose. Kingdoms could rise and fall for all he cared so long as the shard didn’t fall into the wrong hands.

With his master dead he had inherited the mantle of shard guardian, and now it was leading him through the panic to the one who would one day take his place as an apprentice.

The people of [Knightsridge] were fleeing the city, it’s houses and market stalls had been abandoned, and he’d not eaten properly in days. His stomach rumbled as he passed a stall that had been selling grilled meats. Taking the food would have in other circumstances been stealing but he saw no point in wasting the food as it would soon be turned to ash. He grabbed some meat on a stick, he knew not nor cared not what animal it had come from, for all he cared it was rat, whatever it was it tasted better than the bitter berries he’d manage to scrounge on the way here.

His path seemed to be taking him through the market quarter to a wealthy residential area, the houses were taller here, with impressive large windows, all set with real glass. Part of him thought it was a shame that this would all soon be rubble indistinguishable from the slums round the corner. The fires were burning fiercer here than in the market, and he suspected that he was moving closer to the source, which would be just his luck.

He turned a corner and came face to face with men in black armor, one wielding a blazing torch, the other two were dragging a large barrel. As he came upon them the set the barrel on it’s side, set it alight and rolled it towards a large house. It was at this point that they noticed him.

“Look what we have here.” said the man holding the torch, he had a hooked nose and an eye patch and was at least twenty years older than they other two.

“Whats this some kind of monk come to play with us? You want to try and save the city? It’s not going to happen mate.” Said the armored man on the left. As [Astrimus] got a closer look at him he noticed that he and the third man bore a striking resemblance to one another, probably brothers, maybe even twins, they were both a foot taller then the first man, with bulbous noses and very pronounced brows. Artemis suspected that there was ogre somewhere in their bloodline.

The third one turned and laughed “The Captain said we weren’t to leave any survivors or witnesses, so we’re not going to be able to let you get away. Come one [Ghuther] a gold crown says I can gut him before you do.” He and his brother drew their swords, and advanced. Most men would have struggled to carry the swords they had in two hands but they both seemed to have no trouble wielding them with just the one.

“I don’t have time for this, I mean you no harm and I don’t care what you are doing here let me pass and no harm shall come to either of you” [Astrimus] knew it was probably futile, but if he could save the time he would waste fighting these brutes then he was more likely to find the person the shard had chosen before the fire got to them.

“No harm he says, did you hear that [Khaldis], no harm, I think he’s a bit big for his breeches what say you we cut him down to size” The one called [Ghuther] he raised his sword and took a powerful if clumsy swing.

It was easy enough for [Astrimus] to dodge the blow, not only had he spent the past 40 years of his life practicing the art and dance of combat so that he might better protect the crystal when he was charged with it’s care, but the crystal it’s self imbued him with a little of his own energy, making him both stronger and faster than a normal person.

“Eh, looks like we’ve got a dancing monk here, no matter we’ll soon cut you down to size” [Ghuther] again swung his sword, at [Astrimus] and [Astrimus] again moved out of the way of the swing.

Had he the time, [Astrimus] might have liked to stay and dance with these thugs all day, the best way to deal with such brutes was to let them tire themselves out. But time was growing short, for all he knew his apprentice to be was in a building near here burning to death.

The one called [Khaldis] was circling round behind he had finish the fight before he was surrounded. [Ghuther] took another swing and instead of dodging out of the way [Astrimus] dived under the swing of the blade and rolled behind [Ghuther], [Astrimus]’leg then sweeped out and kicked [Ghuther] in the back of the knee, as the giant toppled backwards [Astrimus] swung round and pushed him into the ground, his head cracked into the ground with a resounding thud and with a heave [Ghuther] stopped moving.

[Astrimus] turned to [Khalidis] who was advancing on him, more cautiously now, having seen what he’d done to his brother. His caution didn’t improve his fighting technique any though, he swung just as clumsily as his brother had allowing [Astrimus] plenty of room to shift to one side and deliver a open handed uppercut to his chin, [Khaldis] staggered back dazed but quickly regained his balance and followed up with another swing forcing [Astrimus] back a few steps. It was apparent to to [Astrimus] that [Khaldis] was a better fighter than his his brother.

[Khaldis] raised his sword over his head and started to charge at [Astrimus], if [Astrimus] was going to win this fight he was going to have to fight dirty, he crouched down to the ground grabbed some dirt and flung it into [Khaldis]’ eyes, [Khaldis]’ swig flew wide giving [Astrimus] the opportunity to move strike him square in the jaw, he followed up with an open fisted blow to his sternum, which crumpled his armor and knocked him backwards.

Having dispatched with the twins, [Astrimus] turned to face the hook nosed man only to find that he wasn’t there anymore. He thanked [The One] for small blessings.

[Astrimus] Closed his eyes, cleared his mind, and tried to attune himself with [the shard] after a second or two he could feel [the shard] tug on his subconscious, and he started again on his way.

He made his way through the winding streets following the path the shard showed him till he stood before a large burning house. Inside the house he could hear the sound of a child screaming at the top of it’s lungs.

He didn’t have much time it looked as if the house would collapse at any minute, so covered his mouth with his robes to protect himself from the smoke, entered through the door and followed the sound of the screams up the stairs. At the top of the stairs the fire was raging, the roof had fallen in in several places he stopped for a moment to discern where the screaming was coming from, then moved towards the door behind which he would find his new apprentice.

He tried to turn the handle on the door but it had been locked, he had no time to search for keys so he braced himself and calling upon the power of the crystal kicked the door as hard as he could. The buckled but didn’t give, there was a crash from inside the room, and the crying stopped, was he too late?

He drew back and ran at the door using all his weight as well as the strength the crystal afforded him, there was a crash and the door flew off it’s hinges.

Inside the room through the smoke he could see the body of a young woman covered in rubble, the woman was crumpled over the body of a young child. He moved towards the bodies hoping that he wasn’t too late.

A large chunk of the ceiling has fallen on the woman’s back and broken it, she was dead but as he moved her to one side he could see the body of the child was still taking shallow breaths, she had sacrificed her life to save the child and now he would make sure her sacrifice did not go to waste. He said a silent prayer to one asking him to look after her soul, moved her aside and picked up the child. His new apprentice.

[Tilda] rushed up the spiral staircase, she had slept through the bells and had had to rush through her morning chores so she would be able to make it to the great hall in time for the the master’s morning feeding. As she approached the top of the stairs a voice boomed at her in her native tongue.

“You are late wildling” it was the sentry door, it seemed that all the furniture in the castle was imbued in some way with the masters magic, and luckily for her the ones that could talk seemed to be among the few of the castles residents who spoke her native tongue.

It had been 5 years since she had been captured by slavers, carried in the belly of a ship across the vast sea and sold to serve the master, and yet none of the local household workers would talk to her so she had not learned more than a scant few words of their strange tongue, the only person who treated her like more than livestock was the masters shaman. He wasn’t really a shaman, he didn’t commune with the nature spirits as the shamans did in her homeland, he seemed to commune with some other worldly being they called the one as far as she could figure.

The residents of the castle seemed to afford the Shaman varying levels or respect, the master especially seemed to tolerate his presence, but only just. She liked him though he treated her like a person and not like an animal which was more than she could say for anyone else in the castle.

“I said you are late wildling, you’d best hurry less the master have you beaten” The door boomed at her snapping her out of her reverie, in the in the middle of it it’s great ebony panel was a face carved in the likeness of the master, it’s eyes glowed red when it spoke.

“I am coming, is he ready for his meal?” She replied to the door.

“Luckily for you he was also delayed by affairs of state, you will probably escape the whip today, but you should not make a habit out of tardiness. His last handmaid got him on a bad day and ended up being thrown out a window for her insolence”

“Well I’d best hurry will you open for me”

“I suppose so” the door sighed and it’s hinges creaked as it slowly swung open.

“That doesn’t sound very good, I’ll see if I can get some grease for that” she said to him, [Tilda] had learned that it was a good idea to keep the furniture on her side.

“That would be good, now on you go its a long way to the ground from here”

She passed through the door and continued up to the kitchens where the cook was waiting for her a scowl on his face, he gestured towards a tray laden with fruit and said something to her in in the the common tongue tongue, she caught the the word hurry, and punished, but that was all. She nodded to him apologetically and took the tray through to the great hall.

The master was not yet in attendance, so she placed on the table in front of the plinth on which he would sit and took her place behind it awaiting his arrival. Not a minute too soon for almost as soon as she took her place she heard the trumped hailing his arrival.

The royal procession entered the room with the disembodied head of the master being carried a the front. The first time [Tilda] had seen the master she thought he was some kind of demon, but the way the people treated him was one of reverence almost as if he was the embodiment of some god on the earth.

The procession circled the room with much ceremony as the masters retinue, his generals and the other nobles who were in attendance at the castle took their places and the masters head was placed on the plinth.

The master obviously had some {objection} about being a disembodied head as the plinth was in the shape of a man’s body, wearing the finest of clothing. Immobile as it was it had been fashioned to make it look as he had a body when he was placed on it.

But as he could not move it the duty fell upon her to feed him, she was his hands, his handmaiden.

[Polnos] took his place on one of the long tables he loved it when the king declared feast days, the food was always so much better than the crap they served in the Inns he usually frequented. Although he was a knight in the service of the king he rarely had the opportunity to dine in any form of finery, most of his earnings of late had gone towards paying off his gambling debts, leaving him with scant money to pay for the upkeep of his household let alone fine food.

He had heard that some had started calling him the “Lucky Knight” behind his back in making fun of his misfortune at the card tables. No one had the courage to say it to his face, they knew that no matter how unlucky he was at cards that he was still as deadly with any of the kings knights with a sword, and that he would happily use that sword to defend his honor in the face of any insult.

Speaking of his sword, he felt naked at the table without it, it was customary not to bring weapons to a feast, knights had a tendency to get into quite heated arguments when plied with alcohol, and in the past such arguments had lead to bloodshed, so the king had decried that they would not be allowed to carry weapons to feasts.

[Polnos] didn’t see any need for his weapon he just missed the familiar feeling of having it by his side. To him, like most knights his sword was a part of him, and without it he felt naked. Perhaps though it was for the best, it was all good an well for knights to argue with Knights, but this feast was being held in honor of a group of Monks carrying a holy relic of The One from [Dasteros] to present to the emperor. If a drunken knight were to pick a fight with one of the monks and harm them then there would be hell to pay.

The monks had been seated among the Knights and Nobles of the Kings court, something about them made [Polnos] feel uneasy, he’d never been a very religious man, he acknowledged the existence of The One, but he rarely attended any ceremonies at church, he was a mans man, he left affairs of a godly nature to priests and monks.

There was a blare of trumpets, the king was about to enter. All present stood as the king took his place at the head table to his left was the [Prior] who was accompanying the monks, [Prior] [Uthgan], to his right was his daughter the princess [Amalia] though she was only 9 he could see that she would soon grow into a beautiful woman like her late mother the queen. To either side of them was an assortment of nobles and dignitaries, the late queen’s brother lord [Kotulas], The arch bishop [Father Destinus], A [Dasteroi] knight who was acting as escort to the monks, and a smattering of nobles that [Polnos] didn’t recognize.

The King stood and addressed the gathered knights, monks and nobles.

“All Gathered here today it is with great honor that we welcome [Prior] [Uthgan] and his brothers here on their sacred pilgrimage” The people of [Ignatia] and the people of [Dasteros] have long been friends, you honor us with your presence and we welcome you within our lands and wish you all a safe and righteous pilgrimage to his holy eminence the emperor.”

The king had never been a man of many words, that was one of the reasons [Polnos] liked him, the shorter the speeches were the sooner the food came out, he’d not eaten since breakfast and his stomach was starting to growl.

[The Archbishop] then stood and spoke “Normally at this point I’d lead us all in a prayer of thanks to The One for the meal we are about to receive, but I’d like to break with tradition and invite our esteemed guest [Prior] [Uthgan] to lead the prayer in my place, perhaps you can honor us with a traditional [Dasteroi] prayer?”

[Polnos] was grateful the archbishop has ceded his prayer to the visiting [Prior] he had a tendency to waffle while saying prayers, the last feast [Polnos] had been at he was sure he’d lost weight while waiting for the prayer to finish.

The [Prior] stood up “You honor me and my order Archbishop, I’m afraid I don’t have a prayer prepared in [Ignation] but I do know of a [Dasteroi] Hymn that would perhaps be suitable for this occasion?” The Archbishop nodded to him in acknowledgment and the [Prior] began to sing.

The [Prior]’s voice filled the room, the hymn was hauntingly beautiful, though he could not understand the words [Polnos] could feel a divine power within it’s melody. The other monks of the order joined in one by one, and [Polnos] could feel his eyes starting to tear up, the song filled him with grief, sadness joy and a slew of other emotions. As the song rushed over him he could feel body enveloped in a strange eerie numbness and his legs began to shake. It wasn’t until [Polnos] tried to raise his hand to his eye to wipe away a tear that he realized, much to his concern that he could not move his arm. He tried to shift his weight only to find that he was completely paralyzed by the song. He looked at the knight standing opposite him and could see from the panic in his eyes that he had come to the same realization.

The song continued, unabated, from the corner of his eye he could see the monks were now dancing as well as singing, they all moved as one synchronized in some religious fervor, the fact that they could move and that him and his compatriots could not worried him even more.

Suddenly the monks stopped dancing and as one reached into their sleeves and pulled out a pair of long curved blades. They raised the blades into the air and the singing stopped. As soon as the eerie melody stopped everyone who had been under it’s spell fell to the ground. [Polnos] could feel the feeling returning to his limbs, he started to rise to his feet only to see the [Prior] plunging a blade each into the chests of the King and [The Archbishop], he was screaming commands in [Dasteroi] to the other monks who were hacking and slashing at everyone in attendance, some were attempting to fight back but they were all unarmed and the monks had those cursed blades.

A monk loomed over [Polnos] as he rose to his feet, he might not have much of a chance against those blades but he was a knight and by The One he was going to go down fighting.

[Polnos] grabbed the chair he had been sitting on by the back and swung it with all his strength at the monk, the monk seemed to have been taken by surprise because the chair hit him square in the side and [Polnos] could hear the satisfying crack of his ribs breaking. Pauper knight he might be but he was still a knight of [Ignatia] and he strong as an ox. He followed through with another strike or the chair to the monks head and the Monk fell to the ground.

[Polnos] took a second to survey the scene, he could tell it was a losing battle, too many had fallen in the first few seconds, this was going to be a massacre, had the people or [Dasteros] decalred war on [Ignatia]? Had they already won.

The [Dasteroi] knight had moved into the fray and was participating in the massacre of the noble diners and at the main table [Polnos] could see the [Priar] has dispatched with the King, [The Archbishop] and lord [Kotulas].

[Polnos] watched aghast at the [Prior] chopped off the head of dead king, grabbed it by the hair and thrust it into the air and yelled in [Ignation] “Behold your king is dead! All of you and your precious [Ignatia] shall soon follow!” Then impaled the kings head on a candlestick in front of him on the table so that it stood surveying the slaughter of his people.

The [Prior] then turned his attention to the young princess [Amalia] and began advancing towards her, no not princess [Amalia], with her father dead she was now Queen [Amalia]. If she were to die here, then [Ignatia] would die with her. [Polnos] looked at the kings disembodies head standing on it’s candlestick thrown, it’s dead eyes looked at him and he imagined a look of sadness in them, pleading him do something to save the kingdom. [Polnos] would not allow the queen to fall, the kingdom he had lived for would survive in some form even if he did not live to see that happen.

[Polnos] hurled his chair at the treacherous [Prior] and charged towards the head table, grabbing a blade off the monk he had felled on as he went.

The monks in his way were too busy with their slaying to do very much about him and he manged to reach reach the head table within 10 strides he crashed into the prior knocking him to the ground.

“Run my queen, we may fall today but [Ignatia] lives on with you” He yelled at the princess. She stared at him blankly not registering the meaning behind his words. The [Prior] was starting to get up and [Polnos] positioned himself between him and the new Queen, and began backing away towards the door to the kitchens.

The [Prior] rose and picked up his twin blades and slowly approached the knight and the young queen.

“There is no escape you fool of knight. Look the city it burns, [Ignatia] is no more.” He gestured out the window, and [Polnos] could see fires raging in the town of [Knightsridge] below.

“Your treachery will not not go unnoticed the Emperor will punish [Dasteros] for what you do today”

“The Emperor cares not what happens in the 12 kingdoms, so long as he can grow fat on the taxes” He paused and smirked at [Polnos] “Did I say 12 kingdoms, sorry it’s 11 now”

“You may take our land but [Ignatia] lives on so long as she lives and I will not let you take her” [Polnos] backed away from him further toward the kitchens, if he could get the queen out of the room maybe he could find a way out the the castle.

“[Ignatia] is dead as is your little queen, it’s just a matter of time”

“I’d sooner die than let you have her! [Ignatia] is eternal”

“Oh you will die knight, and so will the young Queen” The [Prior] charged at [Polnos] both his blades whirling. [Polnos] Stepped out of the way of one blade and parried the other with his own, the [Prior] was a reasonable fighter, but it was one thing to kill a paralyzed unarmed man and another to take down a trained and armed knight.

The [Prior] struck at [Polnos] rapidly beating him backwards, which was exactly where [Polnos] wanted to go, the danced backwards towards the doorway to the kitchens, dodging and parrying each others strikes as they went. By the time they had reached the door [Polnos] had sussed the mans fighting style, he was left handed, always leading with left and following with a lighter and less coordinated strike with the right, [Polnos] reasoned that perhaps he would have been better off with a smaller sword in his off hand, but thanked the one for small mercies that that was not the case.

The [Prior] moved to make yet another strike with his left first, [Polnos] feinted a parry but at the last moment twisted out of the way and struck at the priors right hand below the wrist sheering it off with the blow.

The [Prior] cried out in pain, “May darkness take you cursed knight”, the blood was spurting out of the stump of his wrist and he moved backwards clamping his wrist under his armpit in an attempt to slow the flow the blood. [Polnos] saw his chance to escape with the Queen and backed into the corridor, the last thing he saw before he closed the door was the [Dasteroi] knight with a raised crossbow and a smirk on his face.

It wasn’t until after he’d barred the door that he started the feel a stabbing pain in his chest, he looked down and saw that a quarrel had embedded it’s self in his right breast. The {battle rage} must have masked the pain up to that point, he was losing blood fast and was finding is difficult to breathe but the Queen was safe for now.

[Tilda] stood silently behind the master holding his cup, she would offer it to him whenever he asked her for it, it had not taken her long to learn the word for drink.

The master was sat with his usual retinue of generals and a strange man she did not recognize, he had fairer skin and lighter hair than any of the Masters people who called themselves [Dasteroi]. They were all gathered around a large circular table with a map inlaid on it on it, and on the map there were little wooden figurines in the shape of men. The fair skinned man was pointing to points on the map and talking, his words she could not understand but she could tell it was not the same language as the Master’s people. Every now and then the master would say something to his generals await a response and then respond to the stranger in his own tongue, the stranger would gesture to several points on the map and respond to the master who would then relay this information to his generals. One of the generals would in turn reach over to the map and move some of the pieces on the map.

[Tilda] reasoned that they were looking at some other tribes land, perhaps plotting an attack, the map had a castle on it with a city built around it through which ran a wide river, this castle seemed to be the focus of most of the gesturing. There was no city around the Masters castle, nor a river. Also [Tilda] could see the sea from the window of her cell in the Masters castle and the castle on the map was no where near the sea.

The master said something to his generals, she caught the word for “Clear” or “Clean”, the generals in unison moved towards the table and started removing the wooden figurines from the map table, from behind the Master Tilda saw his Shaven head twitch as if he were furrowing his brown in concentration, all of a sudden the map on the table began to shift. Within moments the image on the table had changed from a map of some faraway kingdom to that of a room or hall, it was not dissimilar to the great hall the master dined in, but larger, there was one great table at the front of the room with three longer tables stretching out in front of it.

The Master prompted his generals to put the figurines back on the map, they placed them down on the head table and scattered about on the longer tables. No sooner had the figuring at the center of the head table been placed there than did a sparkling crown appeared above it’s head.

[Tilda] pondered to herself if they had stopped planning a battle and instead were now planning a feast. Then she noticed that the strange man, was beginning to look very nervous, she wondered why. Then she noticed the marks on his arms, and peeking out from underneath his collar, perhaps, she thought he has was not willingly providing this information. She sympathized for him in some way, she had learned the hard way that one did as the Master bid or suffered the consequences.

[Tilda] lay there chained to the bed, the chains were not required, she knew better than to go against the masters wishes, it was merely how the master liked it. The bed was not her own, and she reasoned that it was not likely that it was the masters bed either. What need would a head without a body have for such a large bed, more likely it was a room that was there for the sole purpose that it was about to serve. This was not her first time in this bed and unless she conceived an heir for the master it was unlikely to be her last.

The Shaman, no he had told her that was not his role, he had used a different word, “Priest”, had told her that the master required and heir, and given that he was lacking in a queen the duty of providing him with one fell upon his handmaiden.

The first time she had wondered how the master would go about impregnating her in order to produce an heir, she had not flowered as a woman grown until after she had been captured, but in her tribe the process of creating children was no secret, she had been in attendance when her mother and father has conceived both her brothers.

The priest was in the room, he was uttering prayers and circling the room with a chalice filled with burning incense muttering prayers to his god. He would usually do this for some time, meanwhile a number of serving girls would prepare her for the ritual, one would feed her berries and give her a bitter tasting drink, which made her head feel a little light, which another would massage a sweet smelling oil into her body that made her skin tingle. In some ways, the time before the ritual was the best she was treated while she was under the masters service, he lacked a queen so she was made to feel like one. She had no doubt that they were doing it all to increase the chances of her conceiving an heir for the master, but unpleasant as the ritual was she had begun to enjoy the ceremony that preceded it.

When the priest had said his prayers, and the servants were satisfied that she was ready for the master the priest moved to the corner of the room and pulled on a cord that went up into the ceiling of the room. Soon after a procession of robed men entered the room, one of whom was carefully carrying the masters disembodied head on a cushion. The master was placed on a plinth similar to the one he took meals at, this one however wore no fine clothes, it was of a naked man sitting crossed legged on the floor.

Then came the part that [Tilda] disliked the most, not only for her sake, but also for that sake of the poor man who was dragged into the room, hands and feet chained together completely naked. The prisoner on this day was the pale skinned man she had seen on the Masters council room a few days earlier, she could see now that he was naked just how much he had been tortured, there was nary a patch of skin on his body that did not have a scar or a welt on it, the man had been broken, and given by the way he was limping today, he’d been received more torture as a reward for betraying his people.

The fair skinned traitor was hung by the chains on his hands to the ceiling, and a circle was drawn around him on the floor, he was so broken he didn’t even struggle. Four of the robed men then sat evenly spaced around him, with their backs towards and chanted in unison.

After some time the master joined in the chanting and the transformation began. The masters eyes glowed bright red for a short while and then his face lost all it’s features becoming flat as a plate. At the some time the fair skinned man let out a scream of agony, the last he would ever utter. His features started to change to become more like the masters, his skin darkened and the scars and welts disappeared. His body grew in size till he was a towering hulk of a man, with rippling muscles and the chains that held him in place disappeared.

The master in his new body, advanced on her, the first time she had struggled and fought and she’d ended up being whipped for her effort, so she lay there and let him take her. She had been led to believe that men climaxed before women and often left the women unsatisfied. This had never been the case for her during the ritual, she usually climaxed at least three or four times and started to get quite sore by the time the master was even close to doing so himself, she later reasons that this was something to do with either the masters magic that made the ritual happen or with the berries, wine and oils they had used to prepare her for the ritual.

She could feel the Master starting to tense he was about to climax, this was the part that she hated, with one last heave, she could feel it gushing inside her filling her. And then in an instant the body the master had taken turned to dust and the head in the corner regained it’s face.

The first time this had happened she had cried out in fear, even now she knew what was coming she was no less disturbed by it.

With the ritual over the robed men rose one gently lifted the master of his plinth and placed him on his cushion they then left here there, naked, cold and alone.

“That’s the first course ready to go up, everyone take your positions our honored guests must be hungry” [Cook] was always so prim and proper on feast days, any other day and he’d be joking around the kitchen but not on a feast day.

[Yilda] had been working in the kitchens with [Cook] for 5 years now, and normally they’d be flirting like a pair of teenagers as they worked up a meal for the royal house. But for some reason on feast days, he was different, it was as if something came over him, as if he felt that he had to act prim and proper so the food would be at it’s best for the esteemed guests.

[Cook] which was both his name and his profession, would normally flirt with all the female kitchen, but for her it was different, he’d told her so himself, he was just joking around with the others. Keeping up morale, but she was special. One night when she was working the kitchens alone, cleaning them so they’d be ready for breakfast in the morning, he’d come in a little merry from his personal stash of bitter berry wine, and told her so himself. They’d talked the night away, she’d said it wasn’t proper, but he’d said it was alright, it was their little secret. He’d gone so far as stealing a kiss that night, two nights later he took her flower. He was a wonderful man so charming and commanding, a good ten years older than she was but that didn’t matter. Not today though, today he was all serious, there wasn’t even a smile on his face, the meal had to be perfect it was as if the reputation of [Ignatia] rested on it.

[Yilda] and two other kitchen maids gathered up, the trays of food were all lined up ready to be taken up the the great hall, [Cook] had prepared exquisite looking dishes, and she wished she could try them. It wasn’t fair that they should serve all this nice food and not get to try it. She knew her place though, this was royal food for royal folk, some of the dishes [Cook] had told her would cost more to prepare than he would earn in a month.

She took her place at the rear of the line to pick up a tray to take to up to the great hall, one by one they picked up their trays, passed by [Cook] for one last inspection, and went up the stairs first [Panella] then [Serrah] then [Yilda]. As [Yilda] passed him she smiled at him and winked trying to catch his attention, he seemed not to notice, preparing the meal must have had him stressed out of his wits.

She began the journey up the stairs, there may have been two girls ahead of her going up the narrow spiral staircase but she could only see the back of [Serrah]. As she was about the reach the top of the stairs there was a crashing sound, and a shrill scream from ahead of her. She was sure it sounded like [Panella], she’d heard her make the self same scream once before when she’d seen a rat in kitchens a few weeks back, the [Cook] had had to take her away and spent a good hour consoling her and calming her down.

The other two girls in front of her quickened their pace up the stairs as did she, when she got to the top she was saw that for some reason the princess was in the corridor along with one of the Noble knights, the one they called the [Lucky Knight] she was sure of it, although it seemed his luck had run out for he had a crossbow quarrel sticking out of his chest and his back was braced against the large wooden door that lead the to great hall.

From the other side of the door there was a loud thud, the door buckled forward and the knight grimaced as he tried to keep all his weight on the door.

“You must save the queen” The knight wheezed “Get her out of here, out of the castle”

[Yilda] did not understand the Queen had passed away some three summers ago. “But milord, the queen has been dead for three years”

“NOT that queen you dizzy girl, this one, Queen [Amalia]” He wheezed again, “There has been a treachery, the… Monks… they’ve slain the King…” He paused and spluttered out some blood. “[Amalia] is Queen of of [Ignatia] and the sole heir to the crown they must not get her, Flee with her, leave the castle, keep her safe”

There was another thud at the door, followed by a cracking sound from the hinges. The knight struggled to his feet and picked up his sword, he looked as he would fall over, but he stood proud.

“Please go now, I’ve not the strength to get her out of here, but I’ll try to delay them as long as I can” he raised one hand to steady himself on the wall and gripped his sword in the other.

“Ye-Yes Milord” [Yilda] said and then turned to the other two girls who were still frozen in shock, “Come on then we need to get her majesty out to safety” She turned to the princess, no, the Queen “Milady will you come with us we need to get you so a safe place”

“But my papa is still in there” The poor girl was in shock, if what the knight had said was true she’d likely seen her father the king slain right in front of her.

“I’m sorry sweet heart but your Papa isn’t going to be coming out that door, there are some very bad men in there and we need to get you away from them before they come here” [Yilda] didn’t have the heart to break it to the girl that her father was dead, there would be enough time for that once they were away safe and sound.

“I can’t leave him there, the bad men will get him” The young queen looked on the verge of tears, [Yilda] didn’t know what to do, there was no point in telling her her father was dead now, it would only make getting her out of the castle harder.

There was another Thud at the door.

“I’m sure your father will make it out okay, he’d want you to be safe no matter what happened. If you come with me we can go on an adventure together! How does that sound, maybe we can find you a handsome prince, or a dragon!” She Had to get her out of here.

“A real dragon? I’ve never seen a dragon” She’d gotten her attention.

“Come with me we’ll go hunting for one together” They ran down the stairs, behind them there was another thud and the sound of wood splintering, that door wasn’t going to last much longer and she wasn’t sure that the [Lucky Knight] would have much luck with whomever was trying to knock it down.

She sped down the steps, the look on [Cook]’s face when he saw her was at first one of surprise, followed by anger, followed by shock when he realized the young princess was with her.

“What are you doing down here? You should be serving those dishes. There’s no way you got them all out that quickly” he said.

“There is no time for that, we need to get the Queen out of the castle!” she shouted at him.

“What are you talking about, the queen passed to The One years ago! Is this some kind of Game, you are right we don’t have time for this the second course is almost ready to go up, I don’t have time for games!”

She moved closer to him, out of earshot of the princess come queen she hoped. “The Monks, they’ve killed the king, there is a knight at the top of the stairs, he’s barred the door to the hall, but it wont last long, and neither will he. We have to get out of here”

He stared at her dumfounded at [Yilda] as her words registered with him.

“[Cook] we need to get out of here” She said loud enough for the princess to hear. “We are looking for a dragon do you know where we might find one”

“Yes we must find the dragon!” The QUeen said exitedly, “Have you seen one? Do you know where it is?”

[Cook] Seemed to regain his senses, realizing what was going on, or so [Yilda] Hoped “Er, yes a Dragon, I know of an ancient secret passage, come this way milady, you too [Panella] and [Serrah] you must come find the dragon with us”

As is happened [Cook] had been working in the castle long enough to know the corridors and passageways like the back of his hands, there a small entrance to the castle that was used for deliveries to the kitchen, it would he said hopefully get them out of the castle unnoticed.

It has been a month since he’d rescued the child from the inferno of [Knightsridge] the child had made almost a full recovery from his ordeal, at least he had physically to look at him all that would tell you that anything had happened to him was the small burn mark on his arm. Emotionally however the child would probably take some time to recover, the events of that night would likely stay with him forever.

On the surface it seemed that all was well, but [Astrimus] had awoken to to find the child sobbing and screaming for his mother in his sleep more times than he could count. He knew the [Shard] had chosen this child for a reason, and that he shouldn’t doubt it’s judgment but a small part of him wondered of the child had it in him to become a {guardian of the shard}.

[Astrimus] had had many chances to speak to the child his name was [Jesquin] of the house of [Dirthquirk], but his friends had called him [Jess], his father was merchant of some note in [Ignatia] but had been away to the eastern isles for some months. He was 11 years of age and apparently an only child. [Astrimus had learned to steer clear of the topic of the child’s mother, whenever it arose he fell silent, nothing [Astrimus] could say would resuscitate the conversation.

Some [Shard Guardians] would have relished the silence, [Astrimus] knew his master would have, but not [Astrimus] he had not really spoken to anyone since his master [Quilno] had passed three months before, and he’d enjoyed the opportunity to talk to someone, even if it was just a child. Besides, the [Shard] had chosen this child as his successor, he would have to get along with him for better or worse as the child would be his companion till the day he died and passed the role onto him.

“What do you know of the Gods young [Jess]?” [Astrimus] had to start somewhere and he reasoned there was no better place than the start.

“Gods? I know of The One I didn’t know there were others” The boy looked at him over the fireside with a confused look on his face.

“You are both right and wrong there my child. There is only One God who watches over these lands but that was not always the case.”

“You mean there are other gods that watch over other lands? Did they mover away from here? Did they die? What happened?” Good he had caught his attention.

“Some say each land has its own gods, some say that the same gods rule over all the world but that they assume different faces, sometimes one taking many faces, sometimes many assuming a single face. The truth of that I cannot tell you, but what I do know is that a long time ago the god whom we now call [The One] had two siblings, the three of them watched over us together, and in those days they played a much greater role in what happened in the realm of man.”

“He had siblings? like brothers and sisters? Did he have parents too?” a moment after he’d asked this question a [Astrimus] caught an expression of sadness on his, face. He had to keep him on track less he lose him to the silence again.

“Gods are not like men, how they come to be is a mystery that scholars will debate till the end of time, perhaps once they had parents perhaps they were just always there and always siblings, but this is not the time to discuss the genealogy of the gods, we are interested in history”

“The history of the gods?”

“The history of the Gods and of the Godswar that lead to the one assuming his solitary vigil on the world and his brothers being cast down”

“Brothers? You said siblings before, why did you specify them as being brothers there but not before” The boy was sharp.

“A slip of the tongue, in truth no one knows if the gods are, er, were male or female. It is said that they assumed many forms, some male some female. Some say that they are neither, that sex is irrelevant to them and they merely assume one when dealing with us, because it is what we would expect, for the sake of argument let us treat the gods as brothers in this story, may I continue to tell it or do you have more questions?”

“No please continue the story I’ll try and save my questions for the end. Maybe I’ll just ask the really important ones, it that okay? You know so I don’t forget them?”

“Yes, maybe saving the questions to the end would be a good idea, you never know I may answer them in the course of the telling. Now where was I?”

“You were telling me that there were Gods other than The One before, but not anymore”

“Ah, Yes so I was was. The three gods who watched over our realm were the God of Light, The God of Darkness, and The One. Except he wasn’t called the one then, because that would have been silly as there were two others, back then he was the God of Twilight, the time between darkness and light.” He paused to see if the boy would pipe in with any questions, then satisfied that he wasn’t going to he carried on.

“The Gods of Light and Darkness were constantly fighting for control of the world they ruled, some times the god of light would win and it would be day at other times the god of Darkness would win and the world would be plunged into night. The God of light was a good and just go, it is said that he was the one who created man and set him forth on the world, he is said to have created all that is good with the world. The God of Darkness on the other hand, was evil to the core, he wanted to the world for himself and often schemed to destroy man the god of light’s creation, he is said to have created all that is evil in the world, including the demons and the monsters that walk the world at night”

“What of The One? I mean the God of Twilight, what did he do?” [Jess] piped in.

“There you go interrupting, I was just getting to that. The god of Twilight was, is, a god of balance, he wanted neither the light nor the darkness to prevail, but for there to be order and balance between the two. Whenever it looked like one was going to triumph over the other, the God of twilight would step in and ensure that the balance was maintained.”

“As it happened There came a time when the god of darkness was so close to wining that the god of light approached the god of twilight for help, he pleaded with him to help him destroy the god of Darkness for good, at first the god of Twilight refused he would help the god of light drive back the god of Darkness as he always had, but destroying him would tip the balance in the favor of Light, and would be against his beliefs. The God of Light begged him, his people the men on the earth were all dying, and if the god of Darkness were to win then they would all be destroyed.”

“The God of Twilight thought on this for some time, then he approached with God of Light with a counter offer. He could not let the God of Light win because that would upset the Balance, instead he would agree to helping destroy the God of Darkness on the condition that when the darkness was gone, the God of Light would relinquish his power and destroy himself, thus maintaining the balance. The god of light agreed, and together they were able to defeat the God of Darkness, trapping his power in a crystal which was created by a Mighty human wizard, whose name has been forgotten in time.”

“Some say the god of darkness was killed, or exiled to live on a star far far away, others say that he was cast down upon the world to walk it as a mortal, again the truth we do not know”

“When the battle was over the god of Twilight approached the God of light so that he may carry our his part of the bargain, but the god of light refused, he told the god of twilight that he would create a just world of light and good, and that is would lead to enlightenment, the god of balance was not strong enough to defeat the god of light on his own, there was little he could do to stop him”

“The age of light it was called, at first, the men on the earth relished the departure of the darkness. But without darkness with the sun beating constantly on the world the world grew too hot, rivers and lakes disappeared, plants died and no one could sleep in the unending light”

“One man, a great warrior of his people, approached the God of Balance and pleaded with him to help them end the light of their creator, for without the darkness to balance the world the light it’s self was killing them, the god of Balance said that there was little he could do, but the man insisted, he with the help of the Wizard who had created the the crystal that trapped the God of Darkness devised a trap that would capture the god of Light in a crystal much as they had done to the god of darkness. With the assistance of the god of Twilight they sprung the trap and captured the power of the god of light int he crystal, then they cast him down unto the world to walk it with his the people he had created”

“So The God of Light is Still here, but he’s not a god anymore?”

“That’s what some say,some say he walks among us, some say he lived and died as a mortal. Anyway where he is doesn’t matter what matters is that his power was stripped of him and put into the crystal the wizard created. There were now two crystals each of which had the power of a god within it. The god of twilight saw that it could be dangerous if all the power fell into the wrong hands, so he shattered the crystals each into 8 Shards, and he ordered the Hero to find 16 worthy men to protect them, those men were the first Shard guardians”

“What is a Shard guardian” Ah he’d got him interested.

“A Shard Guardian is a man who is charged with protecting a fragment of one of the two God Crystals, those fragments are called god shards, and they look like this” He reached into his robes and pulled on the cord around his neck bringing the God shard out so that [Jess] could see it.

“What? why do you have one? You’re not a Shard Guardian!”

“Aren’t I? What do would you expect a shard guardian to look like” He returned the shard to it’s place hidden underneath his clothes, you never know who might be watching from afar, and it was not safe to announce ones self as carrying a Shard when you had to protect both it and a young child.

“I don’t know, I assumed that they would be knights with armor and and army behind them. You are just a monk”

“Some Shard Guardians may well be knights with armor for all I know, but they do not advertise that they have the Shard for all to see, there are only sixteen of us in and my life I have met but three, one of whom I know to be dead”

“So you aren’t a secret society that does heroic deeds?”

“Secret yes, but there is no society, we try to keep ourselves to ourselves, the less people who know about us the safer we and the shards are”

“So why are you showing me the shard? If it’s supposed to be a secret why are you telling a boy you’ve only known for a month, I could try and steal the shard for myself and use its power to…” He paused and thought for a few seconds. “I don’t know do bad things” [Astrimus] could see why the shard had chosen him, the fact that he was asking this question meant that had more than meat between his ears, and the fact that he couldn’t think of anything to do with the shard in the event that he stole it showed that he was a good person.

“The Guardians of the Shard are not immortal young [Jass], for hundreds, maybe thousands of years the Shards have been passed down from one shard guardian th the next. Each Shard Guardian takes on an apprentice chosen by the shard, when the Guardian dies the shard passes down to the apprentice. Then he must find an apprentice to whom he will eventually pass down the shard when he passes”

“So who is your apprentice?”

“I have only just become a shard guardian, my master was claimed by The One now two months ago, the shard I carry has been leading me towards the one who will be my apprentice”

“And where has is been leading you?” The boy still did not understand the implications.

“Why to you of course”

[Tilda] was in her room resting, she was so heavily pregnant with he masters child, she had been relieved of her other duties, it would not do for her to lose the child in and accident while cleaning the castle. She had wondered to herself, that maybe if she produced a strong heir for the master perhaps her life in the castle would improve, maybe the other servants would treat he like more than an animal, she doubted it, to them she was the lowest of the low, a foreigner from a far away land. She was a slave, breeding stock.

Just as she was thinking this the priest, [Faralis] she had learned his name was, entered her room, he looked flustered, worried, more so than usual. He raised his finger to his lips, a sign she had come to learn meant that she was to be silent.

“We need to get you out of here.” He whispered in her native tongue, he was a learned man and he had picked up more from he than she had of the local [Dasteroi] tongue.

“Out of where? the room?” She wondered if she was being moved to a different room, maybe a birthing room or some such, the {midwife} had told her she wasn’t due to have her child for at least another week, but these things were never exact.

“No no out of the…” He paused obviously trying to think of the word, “Castle, out of the castle”.

She was the masters handmaiden, and he was the masters priest, why would he want her to leave the castle?

“I don’t understand, why would you want me to leave the castle, I am due to have the masters child any day.” She wondered if it a trap?

“That is exactly why we need to get you out of here, it isn’t safe, for you or the baby” He seemed very agitated, as if he were worried that someone else would walk in the door.

“What do you mean not safe, I am carrying the masters child. The master needs an Heir and am am giving one to him.”

“You are carrying the masters child but it is not to be his heir.”

“What do you mean it will not be the heir, it is the masters child, surely it is his rightful heir”

“The master does not need an heir he needs a…” again he stopped to think of the word. “Vessel?”

“I do not understand what do you mean he needs a vessel?”

“The master is as you know not an ordinary man, he is immortal and cannot die, but he is not immune to injury”

“How can he be immortal, true he is but a head but surely it is sorcery that keeps him alive”

“What keeps his alive is more powerful than sorcery, some say he is a powerful wizard, but the truth is that he was once a god, and he has been cast down from the heavens, and cannot die. As I understand it he lost his body in a great battle some 200 years ago, he was invading a neighboring kingdom, and he was locked in battle with it’s king, the battle lasted several hours and ended with the master and the king felling each other, the king chopped off the masters head as the master plunged his sword into his heart, the master survived the other king did not and the kingdom was conquered. The masters body once separated from his head began to wither and decay, only his head remained”

“How is this possible? Surely no man can survive without a body”

“As I said the master is no ordinary Man. I have lived here for 30 years, I was sent here by my order to investigate the master and I have learned much about him. There are dark powers at work behind all he does and he does not mean your child well”

“Dark powers? What do you mean? What does he intend to do with the child?”

“I cam across a passage in one of the Holy texts of the one, ten years hence a conjunction of the stars will occur, this conjunction happens once in every five hundred years. During this time, the stars will grant one who’s name is not mentioned the power to transfer their essence into the body of one who is of their flesh”

“I don’t understand. What does this mean? Who is this one who’s name is not mentioned? Surely it cannot be the master”

“I believe that is is, when the conjunction occurs ten years hence the master will attempt to conduct a ritual to transfer his essence into your the body of the child that you are carrying, we cannot allow this to happen”

“No we can’t but how do we stop him, I am a prisoner in this castle, I am his slave there is no way that I could leave”

“I have greased the wheels on that account, there is a traveling merchant who is known to work for my order, he leaves the castle this eve and has agreed to attempt to smuggle us out.”


“Yes, The master does not like my presence here, he tolerates me because he fears the wrath of the Emperor were he to displease the church, however he would not hesitate to have me flayed alive if he found out I had a part in your escape. I fear I too must leave.”

“I understand, we should go then when does this merchant leave the castle”

“He will leave as soon as we get to him” He reached into a bag around his shoulders and pulled out some robes and handed them to her “Here change into these, if anyone recognizes you we’ll never get out” She took the robes from his hand and he turned around to let her change into them. They were the robes of a monk, a very fat monk at that, the cloth served well at hiding her bulging belly.

“Before we leave I have a question, what is to stop the master from siring another child in the ten years between now and this conjunction you speak of” If they managed to escape her child might be safe but the master would have ample time to sire another vessel for his transference.

“This too I have read, If the master is he who’s name cannot be mentioned then he has invested a part of his being into the child you carry, he may only have one living scion, as long as your child lives he cannot sire another”

With that he ushered her out of the room, they walked the long corridors of the castle, [Tilda] walked with behind the priest, he told her to walk with her head down and her hands clasped in front of her as if in prayer, once they passed a guard and she was sure they would be caught but the guard merely scowled at the priest and carried on down the corridor away from them.

Their journey through the castle only took half an hour but to [Tilda] the journey might as well have taken days, when they finally reached the stables and saw the carriage that was to take them to safety she almost cried for joy, she had been a prisoner in this castle for almost 6 years, and had not once been allowed to leave it since the day she arrived in chains on the ship that had taken her from her homeland, she hoped to take her child far away, the kind priest would help her charter a ship to her homeland and she could raise her child there far away from the master.

They approached that carriage and a fat man with a bright red beard and skin pale like the prisoner whom the master had used to sire her child came to meet them.

He said something to the priest in a tongue that was did not sound like the local [Dasteroi] and greeted her with a smile and a bow. The priest told her his name was [Wimpleton] and that he would be escorting them to [Ghesseldam] a city in a neighboring kingdom. They boarded the the carriage, which was so laden with goods inside and out that there was barely room for the two of them to sit, and headed towards the gates.

As they reached the gates, two guards came to meet the carriage. [Tilda]’s heart almost stopped as they did so, had someone been to her room found it empty and raised the alarm? It was very rare for anyone but the priest to visit her, him and whomever was bringing her her meals. Had they gotten so far only to be stopped at the last gate to freedom.

The man [Wimpleton] dismounted from his perch atop the carriage and walked up to them men, he showed them a parchment which the priest explained was a license to trade freely in [Dateros], there was some discussion between the two guards and [Wimpleton], and [Tilda] saw him reach into a pouch on his belt pull out a shiny coin and shake one of the guards hands. At this point the guards seem to let up and allowed them to pass.

She was free.

The young queen had led a sheltered life in the castle, after her mothers death her father had doted on her to the point where it had nearly driven her mad. She knew that he was afraid that he would lose her like he had lost her mother, little did he know that it would be her that lost him all too soon.

It had been a year since the [Dasteroi] had attacked the Castle and set the city of [Knightsridge] to flame, a very hard year and she had had to grow up very quickly. She had fled the castle with a cook and three serving maids, be they had joined a slew of refugees who had fled the burning city. They were all that remained of the once great kingdom of [Ignatia]. They had set up camp hidden away in the surrounding forests, some of those who fled had been soldiers who had survived the fall of [Knightsridge] and they had been training the common folk to fight, they did not have enough people to mount a rebellion yet, but they had been doing their best to make the lives of the [Dasteroi] Invaders as difficult as possible, ambushing supply trains, raiding camps and attacking any patrols that they found.

They had started to refer to her as the [Robber Queen] even though she had little to do with the organization of the camp the people had taken her as the last remaining member of the [Ignatian] royal family to be a figurehead. In truth the rag tag band of refugees owed their existence to a man called Sir [Owais] he had been a retired knight in who had served the kingdom for 50 years, he was responsible for most of the activity of the rebellion as he called, to his credit he was brutally faithful to her, and spent as much time teaching her the ways of war, combat and tactics as he did planning raids on the [Dasteroi]. He was in his 67th year and he had told her that one day she would have to lead the rebellion as more than a figurehead, as it should be.

At present he was showing great frustration with her lack of coordination with a sword.

“Come on my queen. Sword play runs in your veins, your grandfather King [Juanatos] was the greatest swords man I ever knew, and your father was supposed to be better still than him.”

He raised a wooden sword and took a swing at her, which she tried to block with her own, but he was took quick for her and she got a smack on the left arm with the blade.

“Ow That hurt!” She rubbed dropped her practice sword and rubbed her arm”

“Forgive me my queen, but if that had been a real sword you’d be missing that that arm and not rubbing it better, you need to learn to anticipate where your opponent is going to strike you” He did have a point, although she knew he would never seriously injure her being struck was still embarrassing.

“I should have you hung drawn and quartered for striking your queen!” She didn’t know what that meant but she knew it sounded sinister, she had heard her mother threaten to do it to someone who had betrayed the crown once before she had died.

“You wouldn’t want to do that to me would you my queen, who would teach take you in your daily sword fighting lessons?”

“I’m sure Sir [Blandrich] or Sir [Grinswald] would happily take over the duty” She knew that despite the fact that both of them were at least 30 years his junior that Sir [Owais] would probably still be able to best the two of them, possibly at once.

“That may be my queen but who would teach you Archery and hunting?”

“Sir [Blandrich] is also a skilled marksman, and [Horgrace] the farmer has promised to take me hunting when the weather improves” She wasn’t sure how good a hunter Sir [Owais] was but she knew that he could hit an Apple off a branch with an arrow, he’d shown her he could not two days ago.

“Very well, but who will tell you stories of the old kingdoms, of the rise of the great nation of [Ignatia] of Sir [Prinkter] the Strong, of the evil wizard [Mottleback] and the beautiful princess [Mathialda] who slept for a thousand years in a forest cave until she was found by [Danrick] a young hunters son, and of how he woke her with a kiss” There he had had it, no one in the camp was as good a story teller as Sir [Owais], his enchanting tales gave her hope that one day she would be able to somehow regain her Kingdom from the [Dasteroi].

“No one could replace you there, I will have you as my court story teller forever!” She rushed towards him and gave him a huge hug, truth be told since the death of her father he had been the closest she had had to a parent. She needed to be strong in front of her subjects, she needed to be living proof that the once mighty kingdom of [Ignatia] still had a monarch who perhaps one day lead it to back to glory, and fend off the forces of [Dasteroi] and their evil sorcerer king.

Sir [Owais]’ stories gave her that strength, especially the story of Princess [Mathialda] and the evil wizard [Mottleback] they told her that even in the face of intolerable odds a smart and cunning princess, or queen for that matter, could defeat even a mighty wizard if she was strong and surrounded herself with brave and trustworthy friends.

“I am at your service my Queen for as long as I can tell you tales I will, even after I stop being able to train you with the sword, and bow” He ruffled her hair as he said this and embraced her. A year ago in another life she would have be very cross with him for ruining her meticulously styled golden locks, but now in the forest such things seemed irrelevant, she was after all the robber queen, and what use had a robber queen of intricate braids and the like. She was going to have to learn to be a warrior Queen if she was ever going to win back her kingdom, she had to be strong, and much as she didn’t enjoy it should would have to learn the way of the sword, and the bow.

[Amalia] let go of the embrace and turned to pick up her sword, with a determined look on her face she turned to sir [Owais]. “I will learn all that you can teach me, and all that anyone else in the camp can teach me, I will be the warrior queen that my people need me to, and I will one day avenge the death of my father.” She paused and lifted the sword up in a defensive stance. “Even if if means that I have to break into the Castle of the evil sorcerer king myself and kill him with my own bare hands”

“If I can my queen I will be there by your side as you do so.” He smiled at her, “Now should we carry on with our training? You’ll struggle to kill a {dogman} the way you handle a sword now, let alone a powerful sorcerer king”

“Yes, come at me I’m ready for you” She said with a determined look in her eye, she was going to recover her kingdom some day maybe not soon, but someday, but first she must grow stronger much stronger, and to do that she must train tirelessly. Sir [Owais] attacked her with his wooden sword, she blocked the first strike and the second, but the third made it through and he jabbed her in the chest.

“Again!” She would not fail she would succeed, she will become the warrior queen and maybe someday a knight or story teller would tell the tale of the warrior queen who slew the evil sorcerer king to a young princess and inspire her to be strong.

They had been riding the carriage for a full week now and they were finally approaching the city of [Ghesseldam]. The ride had been very uncomfortable for her, with her pregnancy, and she had more than once longed for the comparatively comfortable bed in her cell in the castle. Had her time in service to the master made her soft? Her mother had slept on the ground while she carried her, as her her mother’s mother, and all the women of her people, they simply hadn’t had beds. In fact she suspected that the {camping mat} that she slept on covered in an animal skin rug was luxury in comparison to what her people slept on.

None the less she was uncomfortable, and nervous, the child was due any day and she had had several false alarms already. All [Tilda] wanted was for them to be somewhere safe where she could give birth to her child and then she would move on from there. She had not spoken to the Priest of her desire to return with the child to her homeland, not because she feared what he might say, but she had not had a chance to raise the topic.

“How long is it until we reach our destination? I would have never thought sitting in one place for so long would be so tiring.”

“I do not think that it is far yet, let me ask [Wimpleton].” He leaned out of the window and spoke to [Wimpleton], who was driving the carriage, in the language of his people.

The man [Wimpleton] seemed like a kind man, she hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to him alone, as neither of them shared a language, even what little [Dasteroi] she had learned in the castle was of no use to her as he spoke a different tongue, the language of [Ghesseldam]. The Priest however had been able to translate a number of staggered conversations between them, she had learned that he was a merchant who dealt mostly in grain, that he had a wife and three children and that his wife was also expecting a child, which was why he was heading home.

[Wimpleton] responded and the priest turned back to her, “Not long at all, he says we shall arrive in time for supper, he also says that you have not lived until you have tried his wife’s roast pork”

In truth, [Tilda] had never had roast pork at all, pigs were not native to her homeland and the slaves were seldom given anything but leftovers, she had served the master roast pork and she from the smell of it she guessed that it would be delicious, but she had never tasted it.

“That is good, I will feel much better I know that I am not going to give birth to my child on the road.” No sooner had she said this but she felt a twinge in her belly, she put her hand to her swollen stomach and laughed it seems the child agrees with me. There was another twinge, and then she felt her leg go cold and wet. No it could not be starting now she thought surely it could wait a few hours more. [Tilda] doubled over in pain as the contractions started, she thought she could hear the priest yelling out to [Wimpleton] to stop the carriage, she felt the carriage come to a sudden halt then she passed out from the pain.

The Priest Father [Fendrick] knelt before the wildling girl as she gave birth, as a priest of the one he had had rudimentary training in the healing arts, and knew in theory how to deliver a baby, but it had been decades since he had been taught and he had never actually performed a birth.

“Fetch some hot water!” he knew that he had to keep everything clean, and that he needed to ensure that the wildling [Tilda] stayed conscious, and that she would have to push.

He also knew that there was an awful lot more blood than there should have been, and he wasn’t sure what he could do about that.

“I need you to relax your breathing [Tilda], just keep breathing and push when I tell you to. We will make sure that the baby is fine.” [Tilda] breathing was shallow, she was obviously fighting to keep conscious.

Why could this not have waited till they had arrived in [Ghesseldam] at least there they would have been able to call for a {Midwife}, even a farmer would have been more use than himself and [Wimpleton], at least a farmer would have some experience birthing livestock, which he could apply to this situation. Father [Fendrick] said a prayer to the One and told [Tilda] to push.

The birthing went on for 17 hours, [Fendrick] feared had done everything in his power to make the wildling as comfortable as possible, he had fetched water, he had fed given her a concoction of bitter berry wine and numbroot powder to to numb the pain, but as he had observed at the beginning of the birthing that had been too much blood, something inside her had ruptured, and as the baby breathed it’s firth breath, and cried out, it’s mother had passed into the arms of the one.

[Fendrick] said a prayer to The One to look after her soul, as a tear came to his eye. In the thirty years he had been watching the master; she had been one of the few people in the castle to show him any respect or friendship, at first she had thought he was some sort of shaman or wise man, which was probably the closest her people had to a priest. But her people clearly respected their wise men, for she had never treated him with the scorn he was met with elsewhere in the castle.

His presence had been tolerated at best, for although worship of The One was officially mandated by the emperor, as his superiors in the church had suspected it was purely superficial in the kingdom of [Dateros]. It seemed that they revered their “Master” more than they revered any god, perhaps as [Fendrick] suspected because they thought he was one.

It was not until the wildling arrived that Father [Fendrick] had met anyone in the castle who had treated him with any respect, he might go as far as to say that she was possibly the only friend he had in the castle.

Which was among the reasons he’d decided that he would help her escape when in the midst of his research he found the passage telling of the ritual of transference. He had no way of guaranteeing that the master was in fact the one who was mentioned as “He who shall not be named” in the book, but he had his suspicions, and 30 years of watching the master had lead to a lot of suspicions.

[Fendrick] wondered if he had been the cause of her death, maybe he had been wrong, and the master was no more than a petty sorcerer. Had he made her escape with the child for nothing?

He held the child to in his arms, and tried to reconcile [Tilda]’s death with the teachings of the one. The balance was maintained, a life for a life. The teachings of the one preached that for every action there must be a reaction, for every life that came into the world somewhere a life was extinguished, or so the teachings told, the balance was maintained and the god was appeased.

He understood the teachings of the god, and he accepted them, but it did not mean that he needed to be happy about it. He started sobbing to himself, he was sure that The One had his plan both for the child and for [Tilda] but he didn’t see why she had to be taken, never to see her child grow up.

It was at this point that [Wimpleton] rode up, he’d unhitched one of the horses from the wagon and rode ahead to [Ghesseldam] to see if he could get a {midwife} or someone to come and help.

“I came back as fast as I could, the {midwife} was busy with another birthing, but I brought her as soon as we could” He dismounted and helped the {midwife} off the back of his horse.

“You’re too late” it was almost inaudible through his sobs.

“What was that Father I didn’t here you” [Wimpleton] Said, then the to {Midwife} “Go [Elaisa], help him”

“You are too late” this time he shouted it. “She’s dead”

“Dead? She can’t be dead, we got her all the way here, we’ve traveled a whole week, we were only a few miles from [Ghesseldam], she can’t be dead”

“Well she is, she put her faith in us an we failed her, she’s dead”

“What of the child? Did it live?”

“The child lives, but without a mother to nurse her, she doesn’t stand much of a chance in the world”

“[Elaisa] see that the child is okay” [Wimplton] directed the {midwife}.

“Yes Mr. [Wimpleton]” She moved towards Father [Fendrick] “Let me take her off your hands father, we’ll see that she’s okay and that her mother didn’t pass in vain.”

Father [Fendrick] gave up the child almost grudgingly. The {midwife} set it down on a blanket, and inspected the baby.

“Two eyes, a nose and a mouth. Ten fingers ten toes, looks like a healthy little baby girl” She swaddled the baby in the blanket and picked it up. “We’ll have to clean up her birth cord when we get back to town, but there doesn’t seem to anything wrong with her”

“We’d best get back to town Father, the baby will need feeding soon.” [Wimpleton] prompted Father [Fendrick] “What should we do with the girls body?”

“We bury her here, I don’t know what her people’s customs were but I think as a wildling she’d rest easier in a forest than in a city graveyard.

Father [Fendrick] and [Wimpleton] dug a shallow grave which they lay her in and built a small cairn on it to mark her final resting place. The Father said a small prayer to The One and to any of her own gods that might be listening, and they set off back to [Ghesseldam].

“Now that the mother has passed what will you do with the child?” [Elaisa] the {midwife} asked him as they were riding in the carriage.

“I do not know, I had hoped that she would be able to look after it and me her, but I am ill equipped to look after a child by myself”

“Maybe you can find someone to act as wet nurse for the child? I just delivered a baby for farmer [Brydon]’s wife, and Mr. [Wimpleton]’s wife is expected to deliver any day, either or both of them could suckle the child.”

“I’d not planned on staying in once place for too long with her” In truth he wanted to get the child as far away from [Dasteros] as possible, but he couldn’t tell the midwife that. The fewer people knew of the possible significance of the child the better, and now with her mother dead and buried the one person who knew who the child was was himself.

The Master had not been pleased, when he summoned [Shateros], not pleased at all. It had been at least three hundred years since he had last been summoned by the master, and it had been three hundred years too long.
The master always had interesting tasks for him, tasks that required his special talents, find an ancient artifact, extract information from an unwilling prisoner, kill a king. The tasks that other of the masters more mundane subjects could not handle or stomach.

He appeared in the masters chamber in a puff of smoke, it was a parlor trick to be sure but first impressions counted and with him having been out of service for such a long time he knew his reputation must be fading.

As he appeared he fluidly bowed lowering his head in reverence to the master, and folded his leathery wings around himself like a cloak “Master you summoned me?”

“You are late! But I have need of your services, so for now I will forgive you.” The masters voice boomed.

“You have my sincere apologies master, when I received your summons I was In midst of the {endless battle}, I had to fight my way out before I could make my way here” He wondered to himself how his comrades on the front lines were doing, he missed the carnage of the fight, but perhaps he could gain some glory here at the masters behest.

“It would have been better had you arrived sooner, there are two tasks I require of and your tardiness will only serve to make them more difficult for you to perform.”

“I live to serve my masters, name the tasks and I shall complete them or die trying” It was always useful to exaggerate your enthusiasm and devotion when dealing with a fallen deity, you never knew when they might hatch a plan to rise again, at which point you’d be in their good graces. [Shateros] suspected that such a plan was about soon to be hatched.

“As you know the night of the {Dark Conjunction} occurs ten and two years hence, The first task I have for you is to retrieve the vessel for me”

The night of the {Dark Conjunction}? What need did the master have for a vessel for that night, had he grown bored of his current form? It wasn’t until he rose from his bow that he saw why the master was so keen on performing the ritual, what he had at first thought to be the masters body was in fact a stone statue, with nothing but the masters head resting on top of it. A part of him was tempted make a comment about the master losing weight, but he knew that such insolence would lead to a slow and painful demise, the master may only be a disembodied head, but he was the disembodied head of a god fallen from heaven, and one did not rouse the anger of a god lightly.

“Of course master, what form does the vessel take?” The master must have sired a child to act as a conduit for the ritual, maybe the child had caught wind of the masters plan? No, the master would keep one so vital to the ritual somewhere so safe that they would not have the chance of escape, it must be that the mother of the unborn scion had escaped? The master would not risk the losing the conduit by harming the mother, he would likely at least have her in some comfort, perhaps a slave had taken pity on her and helped her escape.

“The vessel is as yet unborn, the mother and we suspect a priest of The Twilight One fled the castle three nights ago, where they were headed is unclear, you must find them and return the vessel to me unharmed. The priest however you may do with as you please”

Three nights ago? He cursed his timing, it could not have been helped, leaving the endless battlefield took time, he had heard of it taking some years to escape it. But they could be anywhere, there were 3 roads out of the masters castle that he knew of, each went in a completely different direction, three roads and the entire ocean, that is assuming they had taken the roads.

“I’ll need a description of the mother, and of this priest” He thanked the darkness that there were no more priests of light wondering the earth, they had been a nuisance, The lord of Twilight, or The One as he was now known took a much more hands off approach to his clergy, seldom bestowing them with and real power, he had often wondered why they were so devout when they had so little to gain from his worship.

“One of the servants will furnish you with that, [Lamasa] you will describe the wildling woman and Father [Fendrick] to [Shateros], leave no detail out or it’ll be your head”

A young serving girl stepped forward, she looked terrified, she had obviously never seen a true demon before.

“And the second task my master?”

“You are aware of the circumstances of my arrival on this plane I assume?” He was no longer speaking in the language of the [Dasteroi], and was now speaking in the ancient demon tongue, this must be a sensitive matter which he didn’t trust even his closest disciples with with.

“Yes Master, the tale the treachery of the lord of twilight, who upset the balance that he was sworn to uphold to ensure your fall”

“Indeed, and you are aware that the lord of balance and his human allies trapped all of my power within 8 crystals shards before casting me down here and then her turned on the Light with whom he had allied with and did the same to him, so that he may rule supreme?”

“Yes my lord I am aware of the story” That was not what he had remembered happening, but every story had two sides, even if one side was bitter and twisted.

“I want you to get me those crystals shards [Shateros]”

“You want me to get you all eight of your crystals shards?”

“No I want all sixteen. If I use them in the ritual I will be able to transfer not only with all my own power, but also with that of my fallen brother”

“Master you know I live to serve you, but truly all sixteen crystal shards it could take me a decade to find but one of the guardians of the shard. Finding all of them could take a centuries” What he left unspoken was what would happen once he found them, the guardians were imbued with a fraction of the power of a god, but even a fraction of the power of a god would be enough to kill him.

“You will find all of them, and you will bring them to me, or there will be dire consequences.” [Shateros] wasn’t sure what dire consequences a god stripped of his power could inflict on him, he wasn’t sure he wanted to find out. Though he did not have his godly power he was still a God and commanded the respect of the demon council. If the master set them on him, his life could be made very unpleasant.

“Yes master, I shall find them all every last one, as you command” [Shasteros] didn’t think he could do it but he would have to try, perhaps he could appease the fallen god with some of the crystals shards if he could not find all of them, he feared that he wasn’t going to get much rest over the next dozen or so years.

Part 2

The boy [Jess] Was growing into a man, he still had much to learn before he was ready to be a shard guardian himself, but [Astrimus] has no intention of handing down the role for some time. He was nearing his {50th} year and the power of the crystal shard he bore would extend his natural life beyond that of normal men.

[Astrimus] had excelled at unarmed combat but it seemed that the boy was more adept with a sword in his hand, the crystal enhanced the natural talents of the it’s guardian and his apprentice, but there had to be an innate talent to enhance. There was only so much [Astrimus] could teach [Jess] when is came to swordplay. He had at first tried his best, but the boy had quickly surpassed what [Astrimus] could teach him, so they had sought out a sword master to train the boy. They had settled on the a knight names Sir [Ambrey] [Finneston]. Sir [Ambrey] had been reluctant to take on a student unpaid, but once he had learned that he would be teaching a future Shard Guardian he had acquiesced.

[Jess] had spent two years under Sir [Ambrey]’s tutelage, studying sword play in during the day, and being taught the ways of a Shard guardian by [Astrimus] in the evenings, he was a very quick learner, and over the course of the two years his with the power of shard enhancing his learning abilities he had progressed to the point where he could best the knight in single combat.

They had left the Knight behind at least a month ago, he had been a good man, but [Astrimus] didn’t like staying in the same place for too long. He had heard rumors that someone or rather something had been hunting down shard guardians, he’s even heard that whomever it was had found at least two, killed both them and their apprentices and taken their shards.

That had been what swayed him, he had taken a sacred oath to protect his shard, and the longer they stayed in one place the easier it would be for this shard hunter to find him.

The cave they had taken shelter from the rain was was fairly inconspicuous from the outside, it had looked like no more than a crack in the rocks. It wasn’t until they had entered it and lit a fire that they realized that it’s humble entrance belied it’s magnificence. The caves ceiling was easily thirty foot above them and there was a vast subterranean lake which they could not the other other side of in it.

As [Jess] set up camp for them [Astrimus] had wondered around the cave to insure that it was secure, he found a passageway towards the back of the cave but it showed no signed of recent use. He also found evidence that they had not been the first to use this cave, one of the walls had a primitive painting on it. After closer inspection he found that the painting told the story of a hunt. It depicted a group of warriors leaving a cave with spears in hand, each one had the head of a different animal, or were they wearing the skulls as helms as he had been lead to believe was the tradition of the of some if the wildling tribes across the ocean?

The hunters appeared to be hunting a some large creature, possibly a dragon. It depicted the dragon killing some of the hunters, and the final blow one of the hunters, who bore the head of a lion plunging his spear into the dragons heart. [Astrimus] wondered how old the wall painting was, dragons had long since passed into myth, some of the stories of the one told of there being dragons before the one created man, but some dismissed even those as fairy tales, or at best allegory.

He turned to return to the camp satisfied that the cave was fairly secure. [Jess] had finished setting up the the camp and was practicing with his sword. Sir [Ambrey] had taught him several forms which he had told him to practice daily, they mainly seemed to consist of a choreographed fight against an invisible opponent, attack, parry, attack, block, block, parry. [Astrimus] could see then sense in it, your body got used to being in the right place to do things, however it was no substitute for actual combat. Sir [Ambrey] had said it was as much a form of meditation as it was was combat training though, it allowed you to clear your mind of your worries and focus on your inner self or some such, [Astrimus] had been skeptical so he devised similar patterns which didn’t include a sword, he had found no spiritual benefit to them. Both [Jess] and Sir [Ambrey] both swore by these patterns though; to each their own.

As he approached he could see that [Jess] was coming to the end of the particular pattern he had decided to practice today, he waiting for him to finish, it was only fair to allow the boy to finish his ritual. When [Jess] had finished and was returning his sword to it’s scabbard he spoke.

“How are you feeling after that?”

“Refreshed and relaxed” The boy said, he might have been relaxed, but he still had sweat pouring down his brow.

“I’ve had a look about the cave, it seems fairly safe, I don’t think anyone has been here in at least a century if not longer, there is a small passageway in that corner over there, and if you want to appreciate some art there is an ancient wall painting of what I think is a dragon hunt on that wall” He pointed first to the cave and then to the wall. “But first I think you need to wash up, you smell worse than a horse’s arse after all that {practicing}. Why don’t you go down to the lake and wash up, and while you are down there see if you can’t catch some cave fish for dinner.” Assuming there were fish in the lake they were likely to be blind and easy enough to catch.

[Jess] wiped the sweat from his brow “Yes I think I could do with a wash, are you sure about the fish, we have no line to catch them with”

“You should be able to catch them with your hands, if not try to spear them with your sword. Consider it to be part of your training.” He smiled at him.

“I’ve had enough training for one day, but I’d rather eat fish than those bitter berries and nuts you keep feeding us” [Astrimus] had grown accustomed to the taste of bitter berries, most people only consumed them once they had been turned to wine, but they were plentiful in the forest and they had a kick to them that would keep you going on long journeys.

“Good you go catch us some fish I’ll stay here and make sure the fire is warm enough” he sad himself down on a large rock close enough to allow him to dry the rain off with the fire’s heat.

“Be careful it’s you don’t over exert yourself doing that” [Jess] chuckled as he walked away towards the lake.

At first [Jess] Had some trouble trying to catch the fish he misjudged the depth of the water and managed to plunge headfirst into the lake, he later tried pretend that that was just his way of bathing. Eventually he got the hang of catching the fish, and managed to catch five of them. One was too small to eat and [Astrimus] instructed [Jess] to throw it back in the water. The others were spitted and roasted over the fire.

“By the one this fish is worse than the berries!” [Jess] exclaimed as he bit into the first mouthful of fish. [Astrimus] sampled the fish and quickly agreed.

“Yes but we have cooked it and we shouldn’t let it go to waste, it may taste horrible, but the one would not have gifted you with four of them were they not in some way good for you”

“Must we eat them?”

“You complained about the berries, this is your punishment for insulting the gifts the one has given you. Next time you should be more gracious. Besides we need to conserve what food we have.”

“I’m not sure I would describe this as food though, its truly horrible.”

“You exaggerate a little, it may not be the match of a {roast lamb} or a {side of beef} but if you wonder the world you will likely have to eat many things much worse, some of which are considered delicacies in their own lands.” [Astrimus] had traveled quite far with his master, and he’d been made to eat things that most men would cringe at, fish that tasted a little odd did not bother him.

“Very well I’ll eat it, but there is no way that I’m going to enjoy it”

“I’m not asking you to enjoy it, if you dislike it so much give it to me I’ll eat it and you can go hungry, or try to catch something more tasty from that lake.” He paused and chuckled “But if you do I want a share of it too”

[Jess] stopped eating for a moment, he wasn’t actually considering it was he? After a few minutes he grudgingly lifted the fish to his mouth and continued to eat.

When they had finished eating the fish [Astrimus] rose and stretched. Very well now that we have eaten I think it it time for me to go to sleep, would you like the honor of the first watch?

[Jess] looked at him in surprise “But I never take first watch, you always take first watch.”

“And today that changes, today you will have the honor of first watch, you are a man grown you must not let yourself fall into routines like that, routines make you predictable and being predictable can get you killed”

“We are very unlikely to be killed in this cave, it’s too well hidden”

“Then you have nothing to worry about, I am tired, would you like me to take the first watch I will if need be, but you are a child no more, do not forget that there was a time when I took both watches and only slept for an hour a day, if you can catch your own food you can take the first watch.”

[Jess] had couldn’t believe his master had made him take first watch, he was tired from training and all [Astrimus] had done was stroll around the cave for a bit.

The foul taste of the fish still lingered in his mouth, at first he had been quite exited about actually eating some meat, but after the first mouthful eating the rest had been a battle with his stomach to keep it down. It wasn’t often that they got a chance to eat meat, as well versed in the ways of the one and in hand to hand combat master [Astrimus] had never mastered the art of hunting. He was not averse to eating meat if it were made available to him but he seemed to hold the belief that there was no point in going out of your way to catch food that would try to run away when there was perfectly good food that would just sit there and let you pick it off a bush.

[Jess] had slightly finer tastes in food possibly because before he came under Master [Astrimus]’ care he had lived in a noble household, he hadn’t wanted for anything, then the fire had come and taken it all away. When master [Astrimus] has first taken him under his wing [Jess] had complained continuously about the food that he was given, come to think of it he’d complained about everything, the sleeping conditions, not having clean clothes, and having to relieve himself in the woods without a privy pot. He had been a spoiled child, now ten years later he still found things to complain about but he mostly did it as a way of joking around with his master.

Of all the things the master made [Jess] do standing watch was the one he hated the most, it wasn’t that he was worried that he would be attacked, it was that he disliked the way that time seemed to slow down to a crawl while he was doing it. He sat alone in the cavern, the only sounds were the crackling of the fire, his master [Astrimus]’ occasional snore and the intermittent chirp of a cricket that had been attracted by the light of the fire.

[Jess] had spent some time sitting on a large rock not really knowing what to do with himself, he had considered getting up and doing some more sword practice, but he didn’t want to wake [Astrimus], he went over the forms in his head, tried to invent new one’s but that soon got boring, it wasn’t as useful if he wasn’t acting them out. He quietly recited the scriptures [Astrimus] had taught him, one day master [Astrimus] had told him he would be the Master, and he would have to teach the scriptures to an apprentice of his own. But [Jess] knew it would be many years before that would happen, the power of the crystal shard slowed the aging process for both the master and the apprentice. Master [Astrimus] had told him that his own master was near enough a hundred years old by the time he passed, and that Shard guardians had been known to live for as many as two hundred years, still he never knew when master [Astrimus] would test his knowledge of the scripture, the look of shame and disappointment in his masters eyes when he got anything wrong made him feel about two hands tall.

One day he would have to get master [Astrimus] to teach him how to do that look, it would help him when he had an apprentice of his own.

He decided that he would get up to stretch his legs, perhaps do as master [Astrimus] had suggested and have a look at the wall painting, he had little interest in art, but doing anything was better than doing nothing, and he feared he would fall asleep if he sat down for much longer. Master [Astrumus] would have his hide if he awoke to find him asleep.

As he rose the cricket started to chirp it’s sad song again, only there was something different about it’s song, it was louder than before, much louder, perhaps louder than any cricket had a right to be. [Jess] was about to ignore it as just a very load cricket until he heard some stones shifting by the entrance to cave followed by a strange chittering sound, crickets traditionally didn’t move stones. Quietly [Jess] moved towards master [Astrimus] who was sound asleep, and tried to rouse him. The second he touched him his eyes flicked open and he looked into [Jess]’ eyes with a look that said ‘There is something wrong’.

[Astrimus] quietly rose and gestured to [Jess]’ sword, as silently as he could [Jess] Drew the blade. He hoped that he wouldn’t have to use it, that is was just some wild animal seeking shelter from the rain, it it was they should be able to scare it off easily enough. Somewhere deep in his gut he had a feeling that that was not the case, he could sense that there was trouble coming through the cave entrance.

He saw two figures come through the cave entrance, at first from their silhouettes he thought that they might be human, but there was something wrong about them. Their heads for a start were the wrong shape, and they had 4 arms rather than two. Another entered closely behind them this one was larger than the first two, it seemed to have a tail, and 6 arms two of which ended in enormous hands, no they were not hands they were claws.

The three creatures chittered to each other, as if they were talking, as the drew further into the cave the fire light exposed their features. [Jess] cursed himself for not extinguishing the fire at the first sign of trouble, it was a sure sign that there were in fact people here. Then again they ended up fighting these creatures he’d be glad for the light, the floor in that cave was uneven and he’d hate to end up in the lake.

The creatures looked like some unholy marriage of man and insect, the two smaller looked like they were giant ants in human form, there was no mistaking the scorpion tail and claws of the larger one.

“Chitterlings” said [Astrimus] quietly, they look like they are hunting for something, or someone. he started moving away from the fire trying to keep in cover as best he could. [Jess] followed him to behind a large rock, and together they watched the creatures examine their camp.

The prey was close, the other worlder had set them on the right course, [Akrab] could smell their pheromones, he could smell the fear lingering in the air. He opened and closed his claws in anticipation. The other worlder would be happy that they had found them, he would reward them.

“Search the campsite, they cannot be far” he ordered [Namla] and [Murcha] the ant people were not the smartest but they were diligent workers, and they proceeded to go over the campsite, [Namla] got down on his hands and knees and started to taste the ground his antenna twitching.

“They were here. They had fish maybe two or three hours ago.” He started sniffing about, they were here minutes ago, one slept here he pointed to where [Astrimus] had been sleeping. “The other, was keeping watch, possibly on this stone”

“Curse them they must have heard them come into the cave” [Akrab]’s tail lashed in annoyance. “But they are still here, I can smell them, find them or I’ll be having ant for dinner tonight”

[Jess] watched at the two ants scoured their campsite, as the scorpion chittered orders to them. He could see how the had gotten their name.

Master [Astrimus] had told him of the chitterlings, they were a race created before man by the lord of night, and they had served him in the battle between darkness and light. The lord of night had looked upon the earth and decided that he wanted servants to do his bidding, he had looked upon the insects, the spiders and their kin and chose them as the basis of his creation. He increased their size a thousand fold, made them walk upright and gave them hands that they might make and use tools and weapons, then he had set them forth on the world in a bid to conquer it.

It was then that the lord of light saw that he would have to create a race of his own to stop the tide of the chitterlings, so he created man. The lord of light decided to create man in his image, and rather than gifting them with the brawn and viciousness of the [chitterlings] he bestowed upon them reason, and intelligence, so man crafted weapons and wall to hold back the [chitterlings]. The war had apparently lasted for centuries, and would still been ongoing today had most of the [chitterlings] not mysteriously disappeared when the lord of night fell. Why the same fate had not befallen man was unclear, although [Astrimus] had said that it was perhaps that the One had a hand in the creation of man, that while the lord of light was not looking, he bestowed them with the gift of free will. This made man as much a creation of the One as they were of the lord of light.

The creatures were scouring the cave searching for them now, the giant scorpion man seemed to just be standing there chittering orders at the ants as they hunted. [Jess] looked around the cave to see if there was a way they could escape, but there was no cover, they could not escape without drawing attention to themselves. He looked to master [Astrimus] as if to ask what to do next but it seemed the master was too intent on watching the activity of the chitterlings to notice.

He lightly touched mater [Astrimus]’ shoulder to gain he attention, [Astrimus] looked up to him and then gestured to the ant man that was approaching them. He pointed to [Jess] then to him self and then to the ant, then he struck the palm of his fist with his hand and motioned with one hand each to the other ant man and to the scorpion.

[Jess] understood, they would catch the closest ant man by surprise then with the odds evened out they would each take on one of the other chitterlings. [Jess] pointed to the scorpion to lay claim to him as his target once they had dispatched of the first ant, but master [Astrimus] shook his hand and pointed to the other ant, then from himself to the scorpion. He always wanted to take all the glory, deep down [Jess] knew that master [Astrimus] was just trying to protect him, he was a much more accomplished fighter than [Jess] and would more likely get out of the battle unscathed, however [Jess] had been hoping to be the one who took on the scorpion man.

The as the and man drew nearer [Jess] could see his masters muscles tense, [Jess] readied his sword and awaited a signal from him to attack. The signal came and [Astrimus] was off like a bolt, [Jess] was always surprised by how fast the old man could move, he squared up against the ant man who jumped up in surprise, meanwhile [Jess] ran out and came in behind him and slashed down hard with his sword at the creatures back. The first blow cleaved off two of it’s arms and a yellow {ichor} spurted out. The creature turned to face him it’s mandibles clacking it leaned forward to attack him, turning it’s back on the unarmed [Astrimus] to face what it perceived to be the greater threat. [Astrimus] seized this chance and just before the creature got close enough to bite [Jess] he saw his masters had burst out out of its chitinous. The creature squirmed for a few seconds then fell still.

Having defeated the first of the ant men [Jess] and [Astrimus turned to their agreed opponents, this would be slightly more difficult, they may have evened the odds, but they had lost the element of surprise.

The humans had revealed themselves, in their cowardice they had ganged up on [Murcha] and they had slain him. [Akrab] was not worried though, it had taken two of them and the element of surprise to take him down, now they would have to split up and they had lost the element of surprise.

“Attack them!” he hissed at [Namla] “You take the unarmed one I will take the one with the sword” but as he was saying this the humans had already split and the older unarmed man was advancing towards him. What madness was this, he was a scorpion lord he could not be defeated by one with no weapon, there would no honor in this kill, he had best make it fast so that he can take the one with steel. He drew a curved blade from his belt and advanced at the old man. He swung his blade at the man nimbly dodged out of the way, perhaps this would end up being a satisfying fight.

[Jess] could see the ant man and the scorpion advancing towards them he moved to face the and man and raised his sword at the ready, the ant man drew a sword and a dagger from a sheath on its belt, and advanced towards him. He’d been taught to fight against an opponent with two weapons by Sir [Ambrey], it was very rare for an opponent to be as able with their off hand as they were with their main one he would expect the ant man would use the dagger in it’s left hand mainly to parry so he positioned himself appropriately. The ant man took a slash a him with it’s sword which he deflected with his own then is stabbed at him with the dagger, this took [Jess] almost completely by surprise, the strike was as fast and coordinated as the one with the sword had been, he escaped narrowly with a cut to his side. Had he been wearing armor he would have escaped unscathed, but neither he not master [Astrimus] could afford armor so he had none.

It might have been rare for an opponent to have equal ability with two hands, but [Jess] reasoned that the ant had four arms so it was completely likely that it was adept as using all of them. He adjusted his stance to a defensive one, perhaps he could wear down the ant man, or at least work out the best way to fight it.

The ant man struck hard and fast, but there seemed to be no finesse to it’s attacks, with it’s blows were extremely strong though and it showed no signs of tiring. [Jess] reasoned that if he remained in on the defensive for too long he’d be worn down long before the ant man was.

[Jess] decided he would have to go on the offensive, he struck the ant man relentlessly, and one by one it managed to block his attacks, he was testing it and it seemed to be able to defend it’s self well enough, so he tried feigning a blow to it’s left side and then changed the direction of the strike upwards, it worked the ant man did not anticipate the feint and [Jess]’ blow cleaved off one of it’s arms, unfortunately not one that was holding a weapon. [Jess] reasoned that ants were rather organized creatures, who ran to a set of rules, action followed reaction, it was able to parry straight forward attacks, but if his behavior was erratic he was likely to confuse it. He just needed to alter his fighting style to take this into account, while ensuring that he himself didn’t get struck down.

[Jess] danced about the and man, he missed opportunities to his it and he spun out of the way of it’s blows. He circled it slowly, then lashed out with a kick to it’s chitinous leg, the creature staggered backwards throwing its arms out to balance it’s self. [Jess] seized this opportunity to take a wild slice at the ant man taking off its the arm that carried the sword. The ant man still had the dagger in it’s left hand but it had no means of protecting it’s self on the right, [Jess] spun round and sliced through it’s torso cutting it in half. The ant man fell to the ground twitching.

Having defeated the ant man [Jess] turned to see how his master was doing against the scorpion, it was striking at [Astrimus] with both it’s claws, it’s tail raised high above it, it seemed as if he had managed to knock it’s sword out of it’s hand, but the creature didn’t have much need for it. The scorpion was driving master [Astrimus] back, it was attacking unremittingly, claw followed claw followed tail followed claw, it was all [Astrimus] could do to keep out of it’s way.

If [Jess] wasn’t mistaken [Astrimus] was in serious trouble, he was managing to dodge the creatures attacks but it was attacking so rapidly that he wasn’t getting a chance to retaliate. Eventually [Astrimus] would tire and the creature would rip him to shreds.

[Jess] decided to join in the fight to tilt the odds back in [Astrimus]’ favor, he advanced on the creature trying to attack it from behind, but it saw him and turned so that it was facing both of them. It backed away flexing it’s claws, this creature looked more man like than the ant, instead of an scorpions head it had a more human head, it was glancing from one of them to the other, sizing them up.

After a few moments it started to advance claws clacking, tail swinging, it swiped at [Jess] with a claw chitin met steel, and [Jess] was pushed back, his blade left a small nick in the chitinous claw of the beast. [Astrimus] tried to circle behind it but was held back by it’s lashing tail, the sharp tip of which dripped with venom. The creature saw [Jess] as more of a threat, he after all was armed while master [Astrimus] was not, it all but ignored [Astrimus] as it began to attack [Jess] with the same ferocity that it had before directed at his master.

As was the case with his master before him it was all [Jess] could do to block and dodge the flurry of blows the creature directed at him, the only difference was as he was actually deflecting some of the blows with his sword he was slowly chipping bits off the creatures chitinous claws, not fast enough though the chitin on it’s claws was much thicker than the rest of it’s body and it would take him an age to crack through it, he needed an opportunity to strike at it’s body, if he could wound it perhaps it would be easier to defeat it, by he saw no openings, and it was all he could to to avoid the creatures attacks.

All of a sudden there was a crack, a large rock hit the creature on the side of the head, it turned in anger towards the source of the projectile. It was distracted, this might be his only chance! [Jess] flew in with his blade and sliced at the creatures body, his sword stuck true and engorged it’s self in the creatures chest, it reeled back in pain, and swung at [Jess] with a claw, the blow sent him flying, and it was all he could do to keep a hold of his sword as it ripped through the creatures side.

Two of the creture’s hands were no occupied with stopping green ichor from bleeding out through the large wound in it’s side, it was looking much more agitated now pacing from side to side, the creature again backed away, but this time it wasn’t trying to decide which of them to attack, it was deciding whether to carry on or flee.

[Jess] got up off the ground sword still in hand ha advanced towards it, it took a look at him and to [Atrimus] then let out a defiant scream before turning and running towards the cave mouth. [Jess] tried to follow it but when he reached the exit to the cave the creature was nowhere to be found.

[Jess] returned to [Astrimus] who had started packing up the camp. “Did you catch up to it?” his master questioned.

“No when I got to the cave entrance it was nowhere to be be found” [Jess] replied.

“That is not good, we need to get out of here, it may come back with reinforcements now that it knows that we are here”

“That is true, perhaps we should try to leave by a different exit, do you think that passage you found at the rear of the cave leads anywhere?” Maybe if they left that way they would could hide their trail.

“I’m not sure, I think I felt a draft when I was there, there is no guarantee though” Master [Astrimus] said, he seemed to be a little out of breath, [Jess] had never considered him to be and old man, but it had been quite a fight, had [Astrimus] not distracted the creature by hitting it with that rock he’d likely still be fighting it, or worse, he’s had fallen victim to it’s powerful claws.

“We’d best investigate the passageway then” [Jess] was really unsure about this, but the other option lead him out the same exit the creature had taken, and he was worried that it was only part of a scouting party.

[Jess] started down the passageway with master [Astrimus] close behind him, it wasn’t long before he came upon a cave mouth that lead out onto the same rainy plain they had come come from. He turned to his master.

“I suppose you were right, it does lead out of here, do we leave the cave now or wait for the rain to stop” but Master [Astrimus] wasn’t there.

“Master?” [Jess] started back down the tunnel and he found his master lying on the floor breathing heavily. “Master, whats wrong”

[Astrimus] pointed to his shoulder, where there was a tiny trickle of blood seeping from a wound he’d not noticed earlier.

“I just need to rest a little bit… The venom in the scorpions sting… It got me… I can’t… feel my legs… Should wear off soon enough…” He was wheezing, it seemed a struggle for him to talk, [Jess] reckoned that either the venom was stronger than [Astrimus] thought it was, or more likely that master [Astrimus] was putting on a brave face.

“Master, the venom, do you know of an antidote, something I can use to counter it.” if there was and the master wasn’t thinking straight maybe he could get it in time to neutralize it.

“The sap… of the Barjar tree… That will neutralize… Neutralize the scorpions venom…”

“Where can I find it is there anywhere near here?”

[Astrimus] convulsed but smiled, for a seconds [Jess] thought he was chuckling. “Not unless you can get to Aknabar and back within the next hour or so.” He wheezed, even when he was in this state he had time to make light of it.

“[Jess] I don’t have long… They were after the shard… I’m… Sure of it. You must take it… Do not… let them have it” He paused and winced in concentration, he managed to lift his arm and pull on the cord around his neck that held the crystal. “Protect it at all costs” and with that his hand went limp and the crystal dropped.

“Master? Master?” [Jess] tried to shake his master to wake him up, he tried to feel for a pulse as his master had shown him but there was none. [Jess] stared at his Masters body in shock, he couldn’t be dead, he had so much to teach him. [Astrimus]’ master had lived to near a hundred, or so he had said, how could be be dead now.

A wave of grief overtook him, he sat there unable to rise for over an hour, all the time staring at his master, this had to be some kind of test, he was testing him for sure, soon he would rise chuckling and tell him that he had been fooled. But he never did.

Eventually master [Astrimus]’ final words came back to him. “Protect it at all costs.” he did not have time to wait here grieving, what if that scorpion creature came back, with reinforcements? He wouldn’t stand a chance, and though master [Astrimus] has had him to hand down the shard to, he did not have that luxury, if they killed him the shard would be lost, and he could not let that happen.

[Jess] leaned over to his master, made one final check of him to ensure he wasn’t breathing and reluctantly he removed the cord that held the shard around his masters neck and put it around his own.

At once there was a burning flash of light in his mind, it was as if he had lived a thousand lives in an instant. He could feel the experiences of all the shard guardians who had held the shard flowing through him, there was too much information for him to process, he blacked out.

When he awoke, he felt enlightened, as if he had dreamed a hundred thousand dreams but could not remember any of them. He stood and looked down at his master, his master’s body may have died but his spirit and the spirit of every guardian who had held that shard lived within him.

He could no bury his master in this cave for the ground was solid stone, so he covered it with rocks, building a small unmarked cairn, that would have to suffice for now. He said a brief prayer to the one to take care of his soul and he left the cave. He could feel a force drawing him to a place far away, the crystal was guiding him to his future apprentice whomever that was to be.

[Akrab] stumbled through over the cliffs, he would have to pick up the trail again later. He had not expected the guardians to be as formidable, he could have defeated either of them in single combat, in fact he was sure that the older mans death was only a matter of time as he had managed to prick him with his sting. No man could survive the venom, he was undoubtedly breathing his last breaths. He had been a worthy opponent, had he had a weapon he might have been able to hurt [Akrab]; however, [Akrab]’s chitinous exoskeleton had protected him for the most part. he was suffering from a few cracked plates but they would heal in time.

What worried him was the gash in his chest, it would probably heal in time, but it would take at least a few month. Even more troubling was the fact that he now had to return to Lord [Shasteros] and tell him of his failure, if that encounter went badly he would likely not need to worry about the wound in his chest.

He approached the ruined fort where Lord [Shasteros] with trepidation, he was one of the fiercest warriors of his people, normally he would not have retreated from that battle, to die in combat was the greatest glory. However, had he perished no one would have known where the shard guardian was. His death would have been in vain and there was little glory in that, he hoped that Lord [Shasteros] saw it that way.

The fort had been abandoned by humans for a few hundred years, and it had been worn down by the ravages of time, his people had only been inhabiting it for ten years, ever since they had been brought back into the world by the master. His people had been exiled when the master had fallen, they had been sent to another world a dark world, and they had lived there for generations so long that the {world of night and day} had become a myth to them. Then one day 20 years ago a rift had opened and the masters servant had appeared before them.

The prophecy had foretold that one day a servant of the master would come to grant them passage to the world which was rightfully theirs, the servant would lead them forth to victory in the name of the master, the lord or darkness. That servant was Lord [Shasteros], he had come to the matriarchs of the spider peoples, to the chiefs of the scorpion tribes, and to the queens of the ant men. He had guided them through the rift to this fertile land that had been promised to them so long ago. Not all had made it through the rift, but those who had were stronger for it.

When they had reached the land of night and day he had sent them out to hunt. They were to hunt down and kill the ones who bore the fragments of the masters power,and for the chosen one, those who returned with a fragment would have great glory when the master rose, and the one who found the chosen one, would gain a special place of honor as a general under the master in the coming darkness.

[Akrab] himself had already hunted down and slain one guardian, and retrieved her crystal, she had also been a worth foe, but she had fallen to his sting, as had her apprentice. He would have slain a second had the incompetent ants not fallen prey to their human trickery. He had however he suspected slain the Guardian, and though the apprentice was not one to be underestimated he was now alone, a much easier mark. The knew where he had been, which would make finding where he was going a much easier prospect.

Finding the trail had been difficult, they had been rumors of a guardian living with an old knight, and once they had found the knight in question it had taken a week of solid torture to get any information out of him. [Akrab] respected the man for holding out for so long, humans were normally so weak, their spirits would break within hours if not minutes of torture. He had granted the knight a swift death in reward for his {bravery}.

Now [Akrab] was returning empty handed, and wounded, he hoped that [Shasteros] was in a good mood.

It had been 10 years since the master had ordered [Shasteros] to his scion and the god shards. So far he had had no luck finding the Scion but he had managed to obtain six of the shards. But six was no enough, he needed all sixteen, the shard guardians were proving difficult to find, and those that were found did not go down without a fight. In addition to finding the remaining ten god shards there was the small matter of finding the Masters Scion. He had personally followed the trail of the wagon carrying the masters pregnant concubine, the trail had stopped at a fork in the road, it was as if their passage had been wiped from the road. He had searched both paths to no avail.

It was at this point that he had decided that it might be prudent to call in reinforcements, he had sacrificed a great deal of his own essence to open the rift to the dark land to pull through the chitterlings, he had spun them a tale of them being the chosen ones who would bring forth the coming darkness and they had lapped it up like puppies, he had no intention of honoring his side of the pact, they were tools, useful tools, but tools none the less. He would use them to further his and the masters goals, then he would discard them.

One of them was approaching the the fortification it was one of the scorpion men, they were good warriors, prone to rage though, this one he recognized but he could not remember it’s name. It had delivered to him one shard already and had gone out on the hunt for another. He hoped that it had found one, if he could at least find eight then the master wold be able to return to his former level of power. The scorpion man was alone, and it looked like it had sustained an injury, but it still lived which was a good sign, surely none of them would be stupid enough to return empty handed.

The fort [Shasteros] had chosen as his base of operations had once been the site of a great battle before it has been abandoned. The remains of many humans had been lying around the fort, many of them unburied. [Shasteros] had used these bones to fashion himself a throne of bone, not to incite fear in his chitterling minions but because he found it aesthetically pleasing. He was sat on this throne of bone as the scorpion man approached him, it was difficult to read the chitterlings, unlike his own kind and the humans they did not betray their emotions with facial expression and body language but with odd movements of their antennae and by excreting scents, he could always smell the scents the excreted but he had yet to discover what they meant.

The creature bowed before him in reverence, the wound in it’s side was deep and fresh, this was why he had chosen to use the chitterlings, a human would have been killed by such a blow, but the chitterlings soldiered on, regardless.

“You have found another of the shards?” He leaned forward expectantly.

“My lord, I have found one of the shard guardians and I have slain him” Good that was seven.

“Show me the shard”

“I do not have the shard my lord, I struck the guardian with my tail, the venom will have killed him by now.”

“Then why do you not have the shard, was picking it off a dead body so difficult for you?” The stupid creature had killed the guardian but not got the shard!

“My lord the guardian in undoubtedly dead by now but his apprentice fought me back, it was he who gave me this” it pointed to the gash on it’s chest. “If I had continued to fight him he would have cut me down”

“You Coward! Where is the ferocious courage of your people that I have been told of! Where is the endurance of the scorpion men who will die rather than give up!” What a pathetic creature, it had just given up and come back here with it’s tail between it’s legs. He would have to kill it slowly in punishment he rose anger the anger welling up within him caused his eyes to burn bright red.

“My Lord wait! I came back for a reason. There was no way I could defeat the apprentice in my wounded state and had I fallen his location would be lost to as would the Shard. I know his last location, his blood was spilled there, we can pick up his scent, follow him find him.” The scorpion man spoke some sense, half the trouble in obtaining the crystals was finding the blasted guardians. Maybe he need not destroy this one just yet.

“Very well what do you intend to do?”

“My Lord, I lost two ant men to the Guardian and his apprentice. I need more men give them to me and I will deliver to you this new apprentice.” If the scorpion spoke the truth then he very well could deliver to him another shard.

“There is a colony of ant men to the north of here in the hills, find them and deliver this message to their queen” A sealed scroll appeared in his hand, and he tossed it to the scorpion. “She will give you the men you need”

“Master you will not regret this”

“See too it that I don’t or I’ll see to it that you do”

“Yes my master, I will” With that he scorpion rose turned and marched away.

There was promise in this, he was not sure how much of the scorpions actions were motivated by self preservation and how much were motivated by a desire to complete it’s mission. Part of him was tempted to slay the creature regardless, but he resisted, if there was a chance that he could gain one more crystal shard by letting the creature pursue this apprentice then he had to take it. He could always kill it when it delivered the shard to him.

[Shasteros] sat back in his throne, one thing still worried him. There was still the matter of the Masters Scion, he would have to come up with a plan to find her or the master would have his hide.

Queen [Amalia] sat on her throne, in truth she was not queen yet, [Ignatian] law stated that she must be 17 before she be crowned as monarch. That had not affected how the people treated her though, ever since her father had been murdered by the [Dasteroi] monks, she had been queen in the hearts of the people, the story of how she had survived despite having been present at the feast only solidified the people’s belief that she was chosen by the one to rule, and that one day she would lead [Ignatia] back to glory.

Her throne room were a modest affair, it was not actually a room more of a cave. Sir [Owais] had told her that she must have a place where people cold seek audience with her, they had searched for somewhere that would be suitable and had discovered a cave complex in a hill in the middle of the forest. Her small group of followers had set up camp in the caves, and as more and more people found her they had settled in the cave. They people had named it castle undermountain, because underhill was not grand enough to befit a monarch. And slowly but surely over the last eight years the caves had been transformed into a dwelling.

News of the Queen under the mountain traveled and it was not long before refugees from all over [Ignatia] started flocking to find her, by then end of the second year there were too many people to fit in caves comfortably, so the queen had decreed that they should build a village outside the cave. The woods near the cave entrance were cleared and the village was built, with a sturdy wooden wall surrounding it. As the construction of the village progressed people started moving out of the caves and into the houses in the village. Sire [Owais] had been supervising the training of a militia, as he was too old to fight himself, he served an advisory role and was an important member of her council. The other member of the council were Father [Bandon] a priest of The One who had survived the burning of [Knightsridge], [Tillon] [Dirthquirk] a merchant who had returned home to find his home burnt to the ground and Sir [Siddeon] [Meldricht] a knight in service to the crown.

She even had a court, much as it was, the members of several noble houses had survived the burning and they had sought refuge along with everyone else. They had been granted it on the condition that they helped where they could, in such dire times they could not afford to let any hands be idle. Many had grumbled that it was not their place to work among the common folk, but she had decried that any who didn’t work wouldn’t benefit from the work of others, she herself had set an example by helping to with the building of houses, and once she had gained enough skill with the bow to be of use she started to accompany some of the hunting parties.

She had also mandated that every man woman and child who was able to be taught how to use a sword and a bow. some of the noble ladies also complained about this, they had claimed that they were far too delicate to handle such brutal devices, she had given them the same answer she had given to those who had refused to work, those who refused to defend the the realm would garner no defense.

Many nobles threatened to leave the camp if they were not treated with the respect they felt they deserved, any such threats were quickly withdrawn when the queen told them that they were free to go, but that their servants were free to stay. Not many servants chose to leave with their noble masters, and thus most of the nobles grudgingly also stayed.

What choice did they have, they could either try to live in peace in the village or travel the in the wilds of the land that they once called [Ignatia], there were many rumors of the dangers that roamed the land, some spoke of children being snatched in the night, of giant monstrous insects that attacked camps in the night. Of people enslaved and taken away to far away lands. Of horrible witchcraft, there was even talk of a demon lord walking the land. Scouting parties had come across village after village that had been burnt to the ground with no signs of life, but was was more worrying was that there were no signs of death either, what had happened to the people who had lived there, had they escaped? had they been taken away as slaves? or consumed by some inhuman monsters. There was no way of telling but there was no trace of them.

She sat now in court ready to deal with the disputes of the people, it was the part of her role that she disliked the most. The nobles always complained that they didn’t have enough, and the common folk always complained that the nobles wanted too much, she was inclined to agree with the common folk but she had to tactfully resolve the situations in such a way that she was taking appeasing both the nobles and the common folk. Her cause would need every one it could get, and though most of the nobles were next to useless as farmers and swordsmen, Sir [Owais] had advised her that when the kingdom was recaptured she would have need of the nobles other talents. Just what these talents were she failed to see, but Sir [Owais] had told her that their connections in other kingdoms would help in securing trade and in getting reinforcements to help build an army.

Hearing the various cases took 4 hours, a noble had gotten drunk and struck a commoner. A group of the commoners friends had taken offense and had had set upon the noble injuring him severely. A young man had stolen a kiss from a a girl, and her father had taken offense and accused him of stealing much more. Nothing out of the ordinary, she found is incredibly tedious.

The Noble had had his comeuppance and then some so she did not punish him, the mob she sentenced to extra work mending the fortifications, as for the young man she warned him away from the young girl and told him not to go where he wasn’t wanted.

With court over she sat down with her council to plan something she had been both dreading and looking forward to. Her birthday and coronation. It was just over a month away, and each member of the council had a different suggestion.

Father [Bandon] wanted a small quiet ceremony honoring the one. [Tillon] [Dirthquirk] suggested that it be a grandiose affair celebrating her life, a cause for celebration with a feast for all the village. Sir [Siddeon] [Meldricht] thought that is would be inappropriate to invite the whole village, perhaps only the nobility should feast, the common folk would not know how to act at such a ceremony.

As for the queen herself, she dismissed the idea that the villagers should not be invited. Of course the one should be honored, perhaps if they all prayed to him he would deliver her kingdom to her. The people were in dire need of a morale boost and a feast would be the perfect way to do that, everyone equal, however the idea of such a big feast filled her with dread, the last great feast she had been at had been the one she in which her father had been killed.

The deliberations went on and on, as well as who would be invited there were arguments about what should be served, this boiled down to what the hunters could catch. Where the ceremony should be held, in the cave castle complex of in the village. [Amalia] knew she should be more interested, it was after all her birthday, and her coronation. After this celebration she would officially be the ruler of the people of [Ignatia], it seemed a bit pointless though as even once crowned she would not have a kingdom to rule.

When the messenger burst into the room she was actually happy for the disruption, something interesting to break the tedium of the planning meeting. That was until he spoke.

“We are under attack!” the man yelled.

“Attack? Who? Where from?” At once Sir [Owais] lept to his feet hand to his blade, Sir [Siddeon] followed shortly.

“Monsters Sir. like giant ants. They are swarming in from the woods, they are trying to break down the gate!” The messenger reported, with fear in his eyes.

First the [Dasteroi] and now monsters, This must be a test The One was putting her through, how would she survive, the fear froze her to her seat, she had lost her kingdom once, and now the people who she had sworn to protect were once again under attack, was there anything she could do?

“We must protect the people. [Siddeon], Get the militia together, send them to defend the walls. Father, [Tillion] go out there and spread the word, get anyone who cannot fight back into the cave” Sir [Owais] was taking charge of the situation, Barking orders. She should be doing that, a wave of guilt started to usurp the fear. She should be ensuring the safety of her people, she should be a the fore front, she was their queen.

“Sir [Owais] we must go out and see to this threat, I will fight for my people” she meant for it to come out bold, but there was an edge of fear in her voice.

“No your majesty, you must stay here, where it is safe.” She knew he would say that, a small part of her agreed with him, here was safe, she did not know what monsters were out there, but surely in her castle under the mountain she would be safe. Her father had not been safe in his castle though… Why was she any safer here?

“I will not stand by and let my people die while I cower in fear in a cave!” She was regaining here confidence.

“Your majesty, we must keep you safe, if anything happens to you then the kingdom of [Ignatia] dies with you, you are the last of your line. Would you have your kingdom remain under [Dasteroi] rule forever?”

“If [Ignatia]’s monarch is willing to let the people of [Ignatia] die in order to save their own skin then maybe [Ignatia] is better of without that monarch. I will not permit that to happen, we need to assess the situation, drive off these invaders.”

“Your Majesty, It is all good and well wanting to protect your people, but you cannot protect them if you are dead, and there is more [Ignation]s that just those in this camp, if you die here then any hope they have of regaining their homeland dies with you”

“Then you had better do your best to ensure that I do not die.” She stood up and grabbed her sword, she had long graduated to real steel from her practice sword but this would be the first time she used it in an actual fight.

[Amalia] stormed out of the hall and down the corridors that lead out the cave complex, Sir [Owais] followed behind her trying to reason with her. She would not hear reason, she would not sit and let her people die, that had happened once, she would not allow it to happen again.

When she exited the cave she found that the enemy had not yet breached the walls, the militia were forming in regiments as they had been trained to. She advanced on them, sword in hand.

“Men of [Ignatia] this is what you have been training for, for some of you this will be your first real battle for some your last, but know this, I fight by your side, we fight for the future of [Ignatia] for the future of your families, so that your children’s children may live free lives as you once did, free of the horror that plagues our homeland, we will fight and we will win and [Ignatia] will rise again!” She yelled at the top of her lungs.

There was a cheer of agreement from the gathered militia, she moved to speak to her one of the generals.

“What is the situation out there?” She had heard rumors of the ant people that had been scouring the land, some called them ‘Chitterlings’ Father [Bandon] had told her that there were stories of them in the texts of the one, but that they were just legends, they were supposed to have left the world in times of antiquity, driven away by the great hero who founded the empire if you believed the histories.

“Your Majesty! What are you doing here?” She had surprised him, he had not expected to see her out here. She must show the people that she was a strong leader, no one would have been surprised to see her father out on a battlefield, why should they be surprised to see her? because she was a woman? because she was young? The histories told tales or warriors who had slain giants before their tenth year with no more than a well thrown rock, why should she be different, she was the queen of [Ignatia] and she would ensure that her people were safe personally.

“Yes, I am here to oversee the battle, to protect my people.”

“Please your Majesty you must retreat to the caves, it is not safe…”

Sir [Owais] cut him off, “I’ve tried [Brathimas] she will not listen, she is the queen and she will be among her people”

“That is right, I will be among the people” She raised her voice so the soldiers could hear her, “A queen should not cower in fear while her soldiers gain all the glory on the battle field!”

The soldiers cheered! She was getting to them, if she could raise their morale, convince them that this was a winnable fight that they could defeat the monsters at the gates, then they stood a chance. If they were fighting monsters then they would need every ounce of courage they could muster and if here presence provided them with that courage then she needed to be here.

“Now [Brathimas] tell me what is happening at the gate?”

“Your majesty the sentries at the gates say that there are…” He paused as if trying to convince himself of the truth of what he about to say “Giant ants your majesty, they walk as men they are swarming the gate, they are chewing through the wood”

“Chewing through the wood? How long till they break through?”

“I… I don’t know your majesty, it’s hard to say. We dont think we have much time though minutes at the most”

“Are they trying to chew through anywhere other than the gate?”

“Not that we can see your majesty. They seem singularly focused on the door.”

“That’s odd you’d think that if they could chew through wood they wouldn’t focus on the door, no matter their stupidity might well be our salvation, Get the men to to ready their bows I think I have a plan. If we survive this I may well make you Sir [Brathimas]” Thought the knighthood meant little in these times of strife, if dangling it in front of him motivated him to be be a better general then it was worth it.

She instructed General [Barthimas] to have the men form four ranks in front of the gate, the first rank held spears aloft to keep any attackers at a distance, the other three ranks all had their bows raised, the moment the ants broke through the door, one rank would fire, followed by the second followed by the third, by which time the first row of archers would be ready to set off another volley of arrows. The Spear men were to keep the ants away from the archers for as long as possible, with any luck they would be able to take out a substantial number of them before they reached their lines. At which point the men would have to resort to their swords to defend themselves against, she hoped, a much lesser number of ant men.

She watched and waited, she had wanted to join the in the ranks of the men, but both Sir [Owais] and general [Brathimas] objected severely. Very well at least she would be able to observe and possibly provide further instructions if the situation changed.

Minutes passed, the camp fell quiet in anticipation, on the other side of the wall they could hear the sound of wood cracking, of gnawing, and a cacophony of chittering and clacking. The first mandible broke through the wood of the door, an arrow fired off from the men and stuck in the wood of the gate, they could not afford to lose arrows like that, as many as arrows as possible must strike home.

“HOLD! Do not fire until I give the word” Another mandible came through “Hold” then another and another, holes were starting to appear in the gate, but not big enough for the ant man to come through. Then all of a sudden there was a crash, the door, straining under the weight of the mass of ant men behind it and weakened by the holes that had been gnawed through it started to collapse. “HOLD” She waited so that there would be enoughtime for the gate to fall and at the first ant man cam out of the dust she yelled “Fire!” A volley of arrows flew forth. She counted in her head one, two, three, four, “Fire!”She yelled again and the second row of men let loose, again she counted to four and yelled for the men to fire, the final row of men let loose.

The men to their credit managed to get off three full rotations of shots before the Ant men reached their lines, a wall of ant man corpses was building up at the gates, but the ant men behind them just climbed over them, they charged the front line of spear men with no fear whatsoever impaling themselves one after another on the spears, until the spear men had to drop the weapons from the sheer weight of them. The ant men just climbed over their dead compatriots and carried on.

Men drew their swords and the slaughter began. She could not tell ho many ant men there were, she could see from the piles of corpses that at least as many had died as she had men defending the village, and yet more continued to come though the door, they were primitive creatures, they did not seem to fear death, they just fought as one. He men were being driven back, the and men didn’t scream so she knew that every scream she heard was one of her own. She had to do something. She remembered as a young child her father had taken her a place where they kept a bee hive to farm honey. She had been amazed by how the bee keeper opened the hives, and gathered the honey, he had used smoke to calm the bees, and stop them from attacking, maybe the same was true of the ants?

She turned to Sir [Owais] who was standing next to her sword drawn ready to defend her. “We need to get a fire started, smoke the ant out.”

“What good will that do?” He looked at her in confusion.

“The Ants if they are anything like other insects they the smoke will confuse them, it might giver our men a fighting chance” She spotted a large pile of twigs and wood by one of the houses “There! We need to get that away from the house and light it so the smoke blows into the midst of the battle” she pointed.

“Are you sure this will work your majesty?” Sir [Owais] had already started moving towards the pile.

“No but if it doesn’t we’re going to have to think of something else otherwise we don’t stand a chance! I’ll get something to light the fire with.” She ran into the cave and grabbed s flaming torch and ran out to be confronted with one of the ant men.

The creature stood before her six foot in height, two legs and four arms waving it held a sword in it’s hand and it’s mandibles clacked as it approached her. She waved the flaming torch in front of it, somewhere deep down in nearly every creature there is an inbuilt fear of fire, it was time to find out if these creatures still had that fear, even though they did not fear death. She waved the torch in front of it menacingly.

Much to [Amalia]’s relief the creature reared back in fear. Good, they were afraid of fire.

[Amalia] swapped the torch to her left hand and waved the torch in the creatures face, it backed away and swung wildly with it’s sword. With her right hand free [Amalia] reached for her own sword and pulled it out of its sheath. The creature was in a frenzied panic slashing with it’s sword and it’s arms at the smoke, [Amalia] was careful not to let it hit the torch lest is knock it out of her hands, she watched the way it moved waited for an opportune moment and struck. Her sideways slash cleaved the creatures head clear off, it lay there on the ground chittering as it’s body slumped to the ground and twitched.

She looked across down the road, Sir [Owais] had grabbed the wood and had piled it up, the the path to where he was was clear, she ran to where he was and plunged the torch into the pile of twigs and wood, it took a few seconds before it started to smoke but the pyre quickly caught fire.

“Fire, they fear fire, it confuses them she pulled out the torch and grabbed a burning branch, she thanked the one that the wind was favorable and the smoke was drifting towards the battlefield. Already she could see the the ant men on the outskirts were being affected by it, their antenna twitched and they hesitated for a moment as the processed the new danger that the fire showed. For many of the militia men this moments hesitation was all that they needed, the ant men went down one by one.

Some men fell but with the smoke had been the end of the ant men, the remaining militia men quickly mopped up the confused remains of the attack force.

After the battle she assigned as many men as she could to getting the gate to the village repaired, they would need it if there was a second attack, she kept back a small contingency to gather up the bodies of the militia men who had died in the battle, she wanted every body identified, no man who died in the battle would go unremembered. She searched for General [Brathimas] but he was no where to be seen.

It took them men the rest of the day to fix the gate, the report of those lost in the battle was much faster to come in, they had lost fifty men to the attack, almost a third of the militia’s number, while 200 ant men had been slain. Among the dead wad general [Brathimas] the had found his body missing it’s head and an arm. She honored him with a posthumous knighthood, as she had promised. The families of any who had died in the battle were allowed three days off work in the village to allow them to mourn for their loved ones. She would have liked to allow the entire village to take the time to mourn but they could not afford the loss of labor, winter was coming soon, and they needed to ensure that they had enough food, water and firewood to see them through it.

It wasn’t long before they were in the council chamber again, Father [Bandon], [Tillon] [Dirthquirk] and Sir [Siddeon] had all survived the battle, as well as Sir [Owais]. The only one who had suffered any injuries was Sir [Siddeon] and they were only superficial scratches.

“We were lucky today, the scriptures that speak of the chitterlings say that the Ant men are only the least of the chitterlings, dangerous in numbers, but not the most intelligent. We need to leave this camp, they know where we are now, they could come back with more, with worse” Father [Bandon] was the only one among them who knew anything of the chitterlings. He did have a point more would probably come, and they could not afford to lose any more men.

[Tillion] however objected “We can’t just up and leave, winter is coming, we don’t have the supplies to survive the winter, we are ill equipped for a journey, and besides where would we go? No I think we are better off staying here, fortify our defenses, and be ready for the next attack” [Amalia] looked towards him, he had a valid point too, at least in the village they had their food stores and they were protected by the walls they had built and, if it came to it they could retreat to the caves under the hill.

“We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t” Sir [Siddeon] Said, “We could probably fortify the Village better but who is going to man the fortifications? We lost fifty men out there, we have but a hundred left. And if they die who’s going to hunt and work the harvest?”

“So we can’t leave, and we can’t stay here” She said summing up their points. “what do we do?”

One voice had remained silent throughout the meeting, Sir [Owais] he had been sitting there looking contemplatively seemingly at a knot in the table, he rose to his feet and spoke: “Then we must do both”

[Tillion] looked at him in confusion, “Both? how can we do both. I fear that you have finally succumbed to your age Sir Knight, are we to split ourselves in two and both remain and leave at once?” He chuckled to himself.

“No, don’t be a fool. The majority of the villagers should stay here, it’s safer here with the walls and the cave, not that we know what to expect we can prepare for a fight.” Sir [Owais] replied.

“And what of the other part of your plan? You said we were to both stay and go” [Tillion] asked.

“While it is best for the village as a whole to stay here, as you said Sir [Siddeon] we don’t have enough men to defend the village properly, we need more men”

“So we go out seeking reinforcements?” [Amalia] was starting to understand where he was going with his plan. “We send out a small group to look for help”

“That’s all good and well” Sir [Siddeon] said, “but where are we going to find help to fight off the [Dasteroi] in land that they themselves control?”

“Whomever we send out is just as likely to meed foes as they are friends” Added [Tillion].

Sir [Owais] shook his head “I never said that we look for hep here” he responded.

“Where then?” [Amalia] was growing confused at first she thought she had understood his plan, now she wasn’t so sure.

Sir Owais looked straid at her and said “To the Emperor”

“The Emperor isn’t going to help us fight the [Dasteroi]” Father [Bandon] Responded “He cares little of the internal politics of the empire, so long as that [Dasteroi] Sorcerer, the one they call the master pays his taxes the Emperor will wash his hands of out plight” He was right, the Empire was vast and as far as [Amalia] had been lead to believe the Emperor cared little for the plight of individual kingdoms within it so long as they all paid fealty to his throne, fealty and taxes.

“Yes the Emperor might not care if the [Dasteroi] invade [Ignatia] but he will care if we have confirmed reports of Chitterlings coming back” Sir [Owais] Responded.

[Amalia] was confused “Why would he care about the return of the chitterlings?” She asked.

Father [Bandon] rose from his seat “Of course, The Emperor is the chosen of The One, his ancient ancestor was appointed as a steward for man on the earth by the one. The chitterlings are said to be creatures the ones fallen brother, the lord of darkness.”

Sir [Owais] Looked smugly at him “Exactly, we tell the Emperor that there have been chitterlings roaming the land and he will have no choice but to help us, and if we can prove that the chitterlings are linked to the [Dasteroi] invasion, then we might be able to get help in fighting the [Dasteroi] and regaining [Ignatia]”

“but who do we send to the emperor? We can’t spare very many men can we?” [Amalia] suspected she knew then answer.

“That my queen is up to you” Sir [Owais] responded “You as the queen of [Ignatia] would have the authority to seek an audience with the Emperor. Father [Bandon] would be able to verify the existence of the chitterlings, and you will need a guard”

“Of course that honor should be yours Sir [Owais]” He had been her Guard for all these years it was only fitting that he would do so on this journey.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline that honor your majesty.” Sir [Owais] responded.

“What? Why, it is your duty to defend your queen, how can you not come?” She was flabbergasted, he had been there from the start, how could he not be there now in her time of need.

“Your Majesty, I am an old man, I would be of no use on a long journey, I would only slow you down and speed is of the utmost importance” He responded “However if I stay here I can oversee the fortifications, I can continue the militia’s training and if the village is attacked again I can help defend it”

“But we can’t got alone, what if we are waylaid on the way to the Emperor?” Father [Bandon] said, he was obviously worried.

Sir [Siddeon] stood up “With your majesties leave I would come with you and I will ensure that you arrive safely at the Emperors door or die trying”

Sir [Owais] turned to him then to [Amalia] “I think that is a good idea, Sir [Siddeon] is better equiped to protect you your highness, I will remain here and manage the military aspects of the village, [Tillion] will ensure that the other needs of the Village are taken care of”

[Amalia] wanted to say no, she would much rather have had Sir [Owais] by her side, but he was right, he was in his late sixties and there was no way that he could make the journey. She had seen Sir [Siddeon] training the men, and in the practice yard, he was a skilled warrior if a little rough around the edges, of course she herself was not helpless, she had received the same training all the militia men had received and more, Sir [Owais] had ensured that she knew how to defend herself, just in case there was no one else there to ensure her safety.

She didn’t like the fact that she needed to have someone with her to protect her, over the past few years she had gone from loathing combat practice to quite enjoying it, it was a welcome release, the only chance she got to let off steam. Ruling over a village, and being the last hope of a people who’s land had been stolen from them was exhausting, she had to constantly be on her best behavior, ever the optimist never letting her worries show. When she was fighting she cold release any pent up feelings she had. She had over the years under the tutelage of Sir [Owais] she had become a skilled fighter herself.

“Very well, Myself, Sir [Siddeon] and Father [Bandon] shall go to meet request the assistance of the emperor, but when should we leave”

Sir [Owais] stroked his beard for a moment, and the said “You must leave immediately, however we will not tell anyone of your departure. It might be prudent for the people not to know that you are known to have left, it could be bead for morale for the people to know you have left so soon after and attack, they might think you are fleeing.”

“Then how do we leave if the people see me leaving they will ask questions, should I dress as a commoner then?”

“No my lady” Sir [Owais] replied, “A commoners dress would not offer you protection on the road, we will find you some armor, not your own that would be too obvious, and a helm that will obscure your face. Then when you leave with Father [Bandon] and Sir [Siddeon] you will appear as a mercenary or guard. No one need know the reason for your leaving”

[TIllion] looked perturbed “And will the people not grow suspicious when their queen fails to make an appearance at court?”

Sir [Owais] turned to him and smiled “That is a problem we will have to solve when it arises, for a short while the we may be able to tell them that the queen has taken ill, but in time the people will suspect something is wrong, we’ll deal with that when the time comes”

[TIllion] was obviously unconvined “I’m not sure that is the best of plans, surely it’s just delaying the inevitable, once they find out she is not here, they will lose faith in us for not telling them, why not just tell them at the onset that way we avoid the issue, and we aren’t lying to the people”

“There is one issue with them knowing where we are going” [Amalia] Said, “We don’t know how the chitterlings found us, there is a slim chance that someone in the Village is working for the enemy and telling them of our movements, if that is the case I’d rather have a head start before they knew I was leaving without a significant guard”

“What do you suggest then your majesty?” [Tillion] asked.

[Amalia] was hatching a plan in her head “I suggest a compromise, I tell them that I am leaving and why I am leaving but after I have left”

Father [Bandon] furrowed his eyebrows and looked at her in confusion “I don’t get your meaning your majesty, how can you tell them when after you have left?”

“I will write a letter to the people of the Village, You Sir [Owais] will read this letter the the villagers 10 days after my departure, the letter will explain the reason for my leaving and the reason it was kept a secret”

[Tillion] looked at with a worried look “You mean to tell them that we suspect that there is a traitor among us? That might lead to everyone being suspicious of one another, that can be dangerous”

“It could be dangerous, but it could also be useful, it could lead the traitor to make a mistake which would single them out” Sir [Siddeon] Said.

[Tillion] was still unconvinced “Or it could lead to innocent people being lynched, is that really a risk we want to take?”

“I’m afraid it is a risk we will have to take, as I see no other way of doing this” [Amalia] responded “Unless you have a better suggestion as to how I can leave the city unnoticed and not have the people wonder where I am”

“Aside from finding a double to stand in your place while you are away, no.” Sir [Owais] said “But there is no one in the Village who resembles you closely enough, and the villagers know you well enough that I think they’d sniff out that ruse immediately”

“No that kind of trickery only works in fairy tales sadly” Said Father [Bandon]

[Amalia] was conscious that they were wasting their time “Then it’s settled, I shall write the letter and give it to you sir [Owais], you shall call the village together 10 days hence and read it to them. In the mean time we should be far enough away for no one to be able to pursue us”

Sir [Owais] Sighed “I shall not enjoy reading that letter to the people, nor their reaction, but needs must”

As they were parting [Amalia] asked Sir [Siddeon] to retrieve the head of one of the chitterlings to use a prrof to the emperor; she then returned to her room and put together what belongings she would need, and prepared herself for departure, Her training chain was not fancy, she had come to the opinion that the artistic flourishes that she had seen on the armor of the knights in her fathers court were fairly pointless and might even get in the way of her being able to move freely.

Less than three house later, her, Father [Bandon] and Sir [Siddeon] mounted their horses and left from the newly repaired gate.

[Jess] Had been traveling for a month following the pull of the shard, he had stopped only to eat and sleep, and those stops had been few and far between, the shard filled him with the strength and the desire to keep going through the night, but he still felt the exhaustion, he was nearing collapse as he neared the town of [Ghesseldam]. His master had told his little of his journey to find Jess all those years ago, whenever he tried to recall it all he could see was a city in flames. He hoped that finding his apprentice would be easier.

It was night as he drew up to the closed town gate, he could feel the crystal reassuring him that he was close. [Jess] knocked on the door, there was no reply, after waiting a short while he knocked again more forcefully, the shard urged him forward through the door, he started to grow anxious not following the pull of the shard wasn’t painful but it was certainly unsettling, it was an odd feeling, it was like a dizziness but without the lack of focus, or a headache without the pain, it was unpleasant to say the least and it was why he had stopped as infrequently as possible on his way here. He was not normally an impatient person but he needed to get in to find his new apprentice, he knocked the door once more.

After a few moments silence a small peep hole slid open in the door, behind it there was a very weary pair of eyes. A gruff and grumpy voice said “What do you want?” it was apparent to Jess that he’d woken the man up.

“I’d like to come in to the town” [Jess] didn’t think this was an unreasonable request.

“Come back in the morning, I’ve not got the keys on me now” The voice replied, and the peephole slammed shut.

[Jess] Banged on the door again, the peephole opened again “Didn’t I tell you to come back in the morning? Away with you now, I’ve got sheep to count”

“I really need to get into the town, I’m here to meet someone”

The eyes squinted at him “Who are you here to meet? No one has told me they were expecting visitors.”

This was going to get awkward “They won’t be expecting me. In truth I don’t know who I am here to visit, I just know that they are here in this town”

“You don’t know who you are here to visit, and they aren’t expecting you. What are you on about man? Have you been at the berries?”

“No, I know it sounds odd, but I need to get in.”

“And why is that then? It’s not too cold out there yet, I’m sure your business can wait till morning, unless you need to do it by the cover of night, in which case I’m not sure I should be letting you in at all”

[Jess] knew he was supposed to keep his presence as secret as possible, but he also needed into the town the pull of the shard was starting to take it’s strain on him. He put on his most authoritative voice and said “I am a guardian of the shard, and I require entry to this town”

“Guardian of the shard are you? Yeah right.” The man on the other side of the door chuckled “Pull the other leg. If you want in you are going to have to wait till the morning”

“I’m not pulling your leg I really am a guardian of the shard”

“You are far to young to be a guardian of the shard son, stop bringing disrespect on them by pretending to be one that’s a hanging offense in some parts, just be glad I can’t be bothered coming out there to arrest you.”

[Jess] pulled at the cord around his neck that held the shard he brought it out and showed it to the man on the other side of the peep hole “Look I am a Guardian of the Shard and here is my shard will you please let me in”

“You can’t fool me son, that’s just a crystal charm you picked up off some street peddler, I heard the shards glow with power that ones not even twinkling”

[Jess] had only seen [Astrimus]’ make the shard shine glow once, when they had approached Sir [Amrey] to train [Jess] with the sword, he had doubted that [Astrimus] was a shard guardian too, until he saw the shard. He didn’t know how to make the shard glow, somewhere deep within him the memory of how to do surfaced, he focused on the shard, and slowly but surely it glowed, at first dimly then all of a sudden there was a bright flash from the shard and it was alight, it was almost as if it were daylight in the area where [Jess] stood.

The eyed on the other side of the poop hole were wide open, [Jess] presumed in shock, possibly awe. [Jess] heard the clunk of a a bolt being unlocked on the other side of the gate and the door opened slowly.

The man on the other side of the door was a balding portly man and [Jess] was sure had seen brooms less bushy than his mustache. He bowed before [Jess] Sheepishly.

“Begging your pardon, er Sir? Is that what they call you” [Jess] had never heard of a formal title for the Guardians, his master had merely been Master, and that was that.

“There is no need for formality, you my name is [Jess] just use that” Although it had been tempting to make him address him by some inflated title, [Jess] saw no reason to do so.

“Yes Sir [Jess], Sir, where is it you are going?”

“I don’t know” He truly didn’t the shard was pulling him into the town, but it did not give him a fixed destination “This way I think” and he walked past the man and into the town.

[Jess] walked the winding streets following the path the shard lead him on, until he came to a door. At which point the pull stopped. Whomever he was looking for was on the other side of that door, a feeling of apprehension overcame him, he had no idea how to approach the situation. When he was very young he remember that every now and then men would come to the door of his house and try to sell their various wares to his mother, be they jewelers, or potters, or blacksmiths, that was how he felt, except he was here to impose on them by taking one of their children away to fulfill an ancient calling never to return.

In a way he envied [Astrimus], he had come to a a house that was burning and found [Jess] to be the only one left alive, there was no awkwardness involved in taking a child away from it’s parents, had [Astrimus] not come for him on that day [Jess] would have died in that fire.

Hesitantly [Jess] raised his hand and knocked on the door, for a long time there was no answer. After an agonizing wait the door creaked open, in the doorway was a man who looked like he was half asleep.

“Yes how can I help you” the man said yawning.

[Jess] had no idea how to start “This is going to take a little bit of explaining can I come in”

“I’m sorry who are you? I’m not in the habit of letting strangers into my house, especially not ones ones who carry swords and arrive in the middle of the night” The man had a point.

[Jess] took a deep breath and paused thinking exactly where to start “I am a Gaurdian of the Shard”

The man looked at him confused “Aren’t you a little young to be a Guardian? They are mostly old men aren’t they? And where is your apprentice? I’ve never heard of a guardian traveling without his apprentice”

“That’s the thing, I have only been a Guardian for a month, since my master passed into the ones hands, and I’m here looking for my apprentice”

“Looking for your apprentice you say? Are you holding auditions or something?”

“No, I don’t choose the apprentice the shard it… Guides a guardian to his apprentice”

“And your shard guided you here?”

“Yes, it has, the shard has brought me to your door” He paused “Do you have any children” He felt a little creepy saying it…

“Well yes There’s my son [Tyrell], strapping young lad, had his 9th birthday not two weeks ago, so you think that he might be the chosen one?” The man smiled in excitement.

“I think so, unless you have any other children? I’m not sure how it works.”

The seemingly woke up “Come in, come in, so you are going to make my son into a Shard Guardian. That’s such an honor we’ll be the talk of the town! Imagine my son, A Guardian of the Shard” He raised his hands up as if holding an imaginary plaque with the title on it. “The boy is asleep now shall I wake him”

It was at this moment that [Jess]’ body decided that it was going to catch up with how long he’s been traveling for, he felt a sudden wave of exhaustion pass over him. “No, I’ll see him in the morning, do you have a room I could stay in? or is there an Inn near here?”

“Are you sure, it’s no trouble to wake him up after all he is going to be a GUardian of The Shard, he has to be ready for danger at a moments notice.”

“No I’ve been traveling for two days without sleep, I’d appreciate getting some sleep before I meet him” There was no hurry he’d likely be spending the rest of his life with the boy, one night wasn’t going to make much of a difference.

“Two days, well you must be tired. We have a spare room, you are more than welcome to stay there, we only use it when my mother in law comes over to stay, and she’s not been here for months. Come this way”

The man lead [Jess] to the spare room, and showed him in. “Here you are, sleep as long as you like, we’ll be having breakfast just down the hall should I tell the cook to set an extra plate?”

“Er… Yes please” [Jess] couldn’t remember the last time he’d had an actual breakfast at a table, with normal people.

“Will you be needing anything else? I’d best get back to bed or the missus will start to worry.”

“Yes, I don’t know your name sir” He extended his hand “My name is [Jess]”

The man took his hand and shook it vigorously “Of course how rude of me, here I am with a Shard Guardian in my house and I don’t even introduce myself, [Gendrick] [Wimpleton], folk just call me [Wimpleton though”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. [Wimpleton]”

“Don’t you Mr. me, it’s [Wimpleton] plain and simple, now you have a good night we’ll see you in the morning and you can see my boy, The Future Shard Guardian. Oh how the people will talk”

[Jess] closed the door, and looked around the room, it was plain enough, the blanket on the bed had a floral pattern embroidered on it, but [Jess] didn’t care he’d not slept in a proper bed in months, the pattern was just superficial. He undressed and put his sword by the bed ready just in case any danger came, it would be refreshing not to have to sleep with the worry that he was going to be attacked in the middle of the night. It wasn’t until he was lying in bed waiting for sleep to overcome him that he realized that he had provided no proof whatsoever to [Wimpleton] that he was a Shard Guardian, this was a stark contrast from the man who had manned the gate, he could have been anyone and this man would have welcomed him in to his home with open arms, just because he said he was going to take his child off his hands. He fell asleep with this worrying thought on his mind.

[Jess] woke up

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