Prologue - Sandbar's Magistrate
The borderlands, where the wastelands and the elysian lands met. It was a haven for wasteland refugees, and felons escaping the harsh rule of law in Skycloud domain. Because it was not part of the holy territories, the elysian soldiers didn’t get involved in trivial matters. However, thanks to its proximity, the scourge of murder and exploitation that plagued the wastelands couldn’t take root. Although it could not be said that the borderlands were lawless, life was much less restrictive than citizens on the other side of the wall had to endure.
Well, that was before.
Circumstances in the borderlands had started to change. The reason for that was Frost de Winter’s war against the Dark Atom. For the last three years, Skycloud’s illustrious demonhunter had led campaign after campaign through the wilds, rooting out the terrorist cells as he found them. Before long, half of the Dark Atom’s forces had been eliminated. It was the worst blow to their troops in a decade.
Then came the Massacre of Teal Ridge, a sensationalized account perpetrated by godless heathens. It constituted the bloodiest tragedy to happen within elysian borders in years. It caused a storm among the people with deep implications and stirred up unprecedented hatred toward the terrorist organization. It was a foreboding sign of the deepening conflict between Skycloud and its enemies.
The governor and his people used this as justification to increase the domain’s defenses, and their capability to fight back. Part of that included heightening their focus on the borderlands. Border soldiers were increased by no less than fifty percent, and countless more checkpoints were established.
The Sandbar became one such checkpoint.
This typical borderlands outpost became a hub for elysian soldiers as they moved through on their missions, while still remaining a haven for derelicts and fugitives. A surveillance station were erected and manned, and over three years soldiers ballooned to over five hundred strong. It was built beside the outpost and was directed by the Magistrate.
There were clear signs of improvement since the surveillance team arrived.
Today the soldiers of what they now called Sandbar Station had gathered for a meal. After their prayers, huge plates of roast meat and second-rate wine were passed around. Subpar wasteland fair, to be sure, but no turned their nose up to the feast. They tucked in, shoving chunks of food into their mouths and washing it down with gulps of wine.
“Congratulations to the Magister for another great success!”
Several officers raised their glasses in salute. Indeed, the most recent cell of terrorists wouldn’t have been found without their leader’s masterful direction. The Dark Atom had spent three years doggedly attacking the outpost, and now seemed totally dispirited. Skycloud domain’s military support had been unwavering, and it was no secret to these men that their recent rewards and success was thanks to that fact.
“The Magister has eyes like a hawk. ”
“That’s right, he saw right through their disguise like it was effortless!”
The focus on their praise sat at the head of the table, a proud smile on his face.
Strangely, his image did not quite coincide with the heroic praise his soldiers were spewing. He was a tall, large man – but large like a humanoid meatball. He had to be nearly three hundred pounds. His round head sat in a cradle of rolls and a few spares hair jutted out from the top of his head. His lack of hair made the thirty-something Magistrate look almost twice his age.
An image like this did not serve to bring majesty to god’s glory. Typically his sort would not be given much praise, much less a promotion to such a prestigious position as Magistrate. But none dared say such a thing. At least in this stretch of territory, everyone gave obeisance to the man. They even called him ‘Uncle Seacrest. ’”
To think, only three years prior this influential man was a mere guard captain – the lowest grade of officer in the armed forces. Before becoming what he was today, he lived for years as a soldier from a humble home, always struggling but never succeeding to win favor.
One of his officers couldn’t help but ask. “Magistrate, what’s your story? Tell us how to follow in your footsteps!”
“It’s nothing you can learn!” The fat man’s face was tinged red with inebriation. He guffawed loudly as he went on. “It was all thanks to him, and that fateful mission. Otherwise, I would have remained unknown, and none of this would be. The greatest lesson I can offer is be ready. When the opportunity comes you grab it with both hands. Soldiers like us, with no family or background, we have no one to rely on but ourselves. ”
The officers all nodded their heads in agreement.
Was now not just such an opportunity?
Once the Dark Atom was eliminated once and for all, these surveillance posts would be disbanded and they would be recalled to serve in elysian territory. Other than serving at the border crossings, would accolades could they win then? The Magistrate’s words were clear: now was their time!
Hammont Seacrest was a wise man. Those who’d served with him the longest knew what he was talking about.
Hammont had always been a small man of no consequence. Years of service in the army had only seen him rise to the rank of captain, until an opportunity fell in his lap. It came in the form of a mysterious demonhunter they came upon on patrol. He led them to a secret Dark Atom cell, and together they foiled the terrorists’ nefarious plot.
When it was done the demonhunter disappeared – gone as quick as he’d come.
Accolades were lain upon Hammont from on high and he was quickly promoted. But it was not enough. He knew it was only a matter of time before the Dark Atom was completely destroyed, and then all of this would be gone. When he was reassigned, it would at best be as a lieutenant.
His aspirations had always been to become a general.
Years of effort had been toward that goal. So, even with the title of Magistrate and command over five hundred men, he never relaxed. He was still so far from where he had to be. If he just kept working as hard as he could, eventually his efforts would be recognized.
Hammont had held the post of Magistrate for a year already. In that time he’d managed to hunt down and apprehend twenty hardened criminals, uncover thirty smuggling operations, and broke up several dens of scavengers picking through ruins for contraband. Merit followed upon merit, and now capturing these Dark Atom spies he was coming close to earning at least a low-level general’s appointment. He just needed one more… one more sensational achievement that would capture the eye of his superiors. That was all it would take. Then he would find himself a pretty wife with a slim waist, and then what else could a man ask for? Only, it was all easier said than done.
The thought caused Uncle Seacrest to heave a sigh.
An opportunity like the one from three years ago wasn’t going to come just because he asked for it. How long would he have to wait?
One of his soldiers popped his head into the hall to give a report. “Magistrate, the spy's questioning has been completed. They’ve been given over to the cleric for execution in the town center. ”
“Execution?” Hammont thought for a moment. “Let me take a look. ”
Four men, badly tortured and covered in wounds, hunched on a dais awaiting trial. By the time Hammont and his officers arrived, a crowd had already gathered. They had all come for the spectacle. After all, spies were a careful breed and in the last two years there had only been a handful captured. Whenever they were, it fell to the members of the church to deliver their final moments.
A middle-aged priest, wrapped in a red cassock, stood before them with a book in his hands. He towered imperiously over the four men and read out their sins for the crowd. He named them blasphemers, and members of a terrorist organization at war with the will of the gods. Their sentencing went on for a good ten minutes.
“These are all capital offenses,” the priest accused. He stood before the oldest of the spies and bellowed with a voice like thunder. “Do you repent?”
All four of the men looked absolutely terrified.
Scared though they were, in their hearts they remained steadfast. They would die, no matter what they said or did. There was no mercy to be found here, so silence was maintained. To the crowd, this made them as good as guilty. Terrorists like them were idealists, and now that they were caught they would not give up on the only thing they had left, their faith.
The people cried for blood.
“Almighty gods in heaven. Please, heed my prayer!” The red priest opened the book in his hands. With a deep and solemn voice, he began to read for the passages therein. He came to the last sentence. “Let the heavens convey upon these sinners its holy fire, to wash the sin from their black souls!”
All of a sudden, all four men opened their mouths, and a blood-curdling chorus of screams poured forth.
Cheers answered from the crowd. Some were excited, and some afraid, at the eminent display of divine wrath.
The damned burst into columns of baleful green fire. This fire did not come from outside, but burst out from within their sin-stained bodies like broken water balloons. Flames erupted from bubbling flesh, belched from their mouths and eyes and ears, until it consumed them completely.
The smell of cooking meat caused many onlookers to wretch.
It didn’t matter how strong they were in their ideals, the men could not will away the hungry fires. They burned for a while even after their piteous cries had stopped and their bodies had turned to cinders. Only once all that remained was ash did the green fires die.
“May their lost souls be cleansed, and find peace. ”
The red priest’s face was a mask of despair, bemoaning this necessary incident. He turned back to the crowd and read once more from his book, the same old tales that struck fear in the hearts of the pious. It served well to build the confidence of believers, but had little effect on others.
Hammont watched the whole thing.
It was the fourth time he’d watched an execution like this, ever since finding the old spy three years ago. It shocked him every time. He couldn’t explain where the fires came from, once the priest levied judgment.
Was it really the power of the god of judgment? If it was, he shuddered at its terrible manifestation.