Mach looked out into the council hall of the Sirunre palace. This had once been the home of his enemy. Now it belonged to the people of Gehnith. For the time being, he allowed himself to be put into the position of leader while the hunt for Rubious continued. He had taken the position on this seat reluctantly nearly half a year ago after the last battle with Rubious. He prayed every day that they would find the beast soon and they would be able to eliminate the man before long. Every day that went by was another day for Rubious to grow in strength. The last time they had seen him, it had been apparent that Rubious was a growing danger and it was clear that he had no care for life.
The council hall was as large as most any large gathering rooms he had seen. Ever since Rubious abandoned these lands, a lot of changes had started and quite a few of them had been cosmetic. This room for instance. Once, long ago, it had been pure black walls with a dark stained wood tables. The only light had come from a single fire placed behind where the ruler would sit. He assumed this was to give the effect of superiority over anyone who was within the room. That had been the only warmth available as well, keeping the King warm and allowing the others to freeze during the cold winter months. The thought that Rubious would treat his Generals in such a manner disgusted him.
Now that Rubious was gone, however, the whole feel of the palace had changed with the redecoration of every room. The walls within the council room had been painted over with white clay and torch sconces had been installed in such a way that the room was lit brightly from wall to wall. Though there was still only the one fire place, thanks to the many torches, and some genius innovation from the Mages, the entire room was warm enough to be comfortable without being overbearingly hot. It was a fact that the members of the old council that had survived Rubious’ reign in Sirunre did not hesitate to compliment on.
He sat staring at the group of men and women sitting around the table with wonder. Every head leader from almost each human race that resided within the lands of the Five Empires region sat at the table in front of him. When he started his hunt for Rubious and the search for the Stones of Magic so long ago, he never would have thought that he would be involved with this many people. Let alone be overseeing military operations as they all worked together to find Rubious. This group was also solid proof that the Old Laws of the past were fading away and a new era was beginning to rise. The end of the Damnation was at hand after more than three hundred years. A feat that was long sought for by many and others had worked towards for decades.
In the past, during the time of his ancestor Nedmere Derune, Mages could be found in just about any town. They worked and lived like any other person. Mages lived their lives as wholly as any other tradesman would, using their talents to perform needed tasks to earn silver. Those had been the days when a Mages greatest accomplishments were found in living a full life and being able to pass down a home or shop to their children.
But tragedy struck when villages that were populated entirely of Mages were found emptied, usually without any trace of a fight. This had led to a faction of Mages rising up to pursue the truth in these vanished Mages, seeking their own answers as they were under the belief that their leader was doing nothing but negotiating for information. As the tragedies increased over the years, an event happened that threw the rebel forces into full war and the Great War begun and was ended within only a few months’ time. After which, with the conclusion of the last battle and the death of the Mage King, the Mages were condemned to death for their crimes against the Five Empires. Any Mage that knew the combative skills of their race would be put to death immediately. There would be no trial, no prison, and any citizen could take the matter into their own hands. If the Mage showed signs of magic but were skilled as a Healer with no aptitude for combat, than they would be allowed to swear fealty to a King or High Lord. If they refused, than their fate would be the same as any combat skilled Mage. The last three hundred years had seen more bloodshed of Mages for crimes of the past than at any time before all the way back to the time to when the Goddess Kriasta reportedly remade the world from the cataclysm that befell their world.
But now, armies of fighters were training and readying themselves to fight against a madman alongside and with an army of Mages who had come out of hiding after so long of staying in the shadows. The seeds of this change had been planted decades ago by men who dared to try and change the world and now those seeds were blossoming into a brighter future for everyone. They only needed to find a way of killing the plague that was growing in the world before it destroyed everything that they were working towards. If they could end the evil that was growing in the form of Rubious, the light of hope that was growing steadily would shine through.
He shook his head thoughtfully as he considered the last year and a half. So much had changed in the world around him, there had been more changes within him then he would have thought possible. As he reflected back on the past, he looked at the members who sat at the table with him. Mendoll Alstair, his closest friend, though only marginally more so to some others. Mendoll was also one of the oldest members of the council. The Healing Adept’s white hair had been cut short recently, a look that Mach was still trying to get used to. The Mages grey eyes were just as jolly as ever, though there was the always present sadness deep within them. A sadness that Mach now shared some of. The Master Adept Healer had once worn the white robes of his profession with pride, having obtained the class of Adept Healer by the age of only forty or so years. But now, so far as Mach could figure, the old Mage was nearly one hundred seventy years of age, though the man did not look older than fifty.
It was a show of how powerful the Healer was that he could live that long and retain his health so well. But now, Mendoll wore clothes that were fit more for the tracker or woodsman. He had adopted the reddish brown leather tunic and greaves. Light armor made for quick movements and agility. He had finally consented to one of the weavers crafting him a new robe, this one of red and brown design. The effect with his newly preferred armor was astounding for the old Mage. It made him look more impressive as he marched through town.
Beside the Adept was Bastra, another individual that he would trust unfailingly. Bastra was one of the Gargoyle race, a race that was rumored that Kriasta created as a symbol of bond between the Dragon race and the Humans. Bastra’s stone grey skin was nearly twice as tough as horse hide, making it far harder to wound him in battle. The Gargoyle race on average were larger than any human, easily standing several heads taller. Their broad shoulders and large muscles bulged dangerously like the second race they were reportedly modeled after. The sheer size of their wings needed that mass of muscle to allow them flight and though it took great effort for them to carry anyone or anything extra, the simple fact that they could carry a human body or the equivalent was an amazing feat of power.
Both Mendoll and Bastra were the two people that had started him on this journey of finding the Stones of magic and ending Rubious’ reign of terror, though the last was not for vengeance as he had first set out to accomplish. Mendoll had taught him a great deal in the time that they had been together, most importantly that though he may still want vengeance for what had happened to his home and family, in the grander scale of the world, ending Rubious for the sake of the people was far more important than simple vengeance. Keeping his mind focused on protecting the innocent will help him when the time finally comes to face Rubious once again. And the next time will be the last.
Across from those two sat Sehto and George. Two men who, given the difference in time that he had known each of them, were the closest thing to family that he had. George had been a blacksmith in Selane since long before Mach had been born. With his large build, salt and pepper hair and scruffy beard, the man was the closest thing to a father that he had. After the death of Mach’s father, Dan Derune, George had become a surrogate father to him. He never imposed on the Derune family, but whenever, and if ever, they needed a hand, George was there in a heartbeat. The man had always been kind to him and his mother before and after Dan’s death and Mach knew that if it had not been for the kindness that George had shown his mother, Lizza may not have survived the years that followed after her husband’s untimely death.
Sehto, on the other hand, was a man Mach felt he could trust as much as he had his father. Although he had only known the tracker for the last year and a half, the two had grown a bond between each other that was as close as any that could be found. If George was like a father, than Sehto would be an uncle that he could trust just as much. There had been more than one occasion where it had been Sehto’s encouragement and understanding that had guided Mach through his emotional ordeals and had allowed him to make the right choice. With his brownish black hair already starting to go the same way as George’s, the tracker was a picture of fitness in his age. Although considering that they all trained daily for the battle that would ultimately come against whatever forces Rubious would come, it was Sehto who guided and pushed Mach to better his skills with the blade. Most times that meant that the tracker would train harder and longer to better his own skills just so that he would be able to keep up with Mach’s own rising abilities.
Sitting directly across the table from him, much as a place of honor as any, was the Grand Lord of Sedan. The Ruler of the Sedan Kingdom had sworn allegiance to Mach when he and his men had come through the Grand Lord’s kingdom while hunting Rubious well over a half a year ago. During a blizzard that had forced the group to take refuge in a city within the borders of Sedan, Mach had found that the local Lord had been a Blood Mage working his skills on captured Mages, one of whom had been the Grand Lord’s mother and his wife. The resulting execution of the Blood Mage and the rescuing of the Mages had been the catalyst that had set the Sedan Kingdom on the path of renouncing the Old Laws, officially turning the tide for the other lands to begin doing the same. Gabriel Banvard, with his clean swept brown hair and neatly trimmed beard, was always the spot of energy when it came down to lifting spirits. The man was able to look at life again in a whole new glow thanks to what he had regained, and Mach had the subdued pleasure of knowing that he had at least been able to help one family reunite with his actions. If he failed in his attempt to destroy Rubious, he could still die knowing that he was responsible for so much good.
Sitting on either side of the Grand Lord were the leaders of the Islatian forces. On one side was the Lord Marshall Stamince, leader of the defensive forces of Islat. His flaming wild red hair was so unlike the rest of the people that he watched over, but his smile and personality were just as feisty. The Lord Marshall was a man willing to fight anyone to protect those who he felt were his own, a quality that the man and Mach shared. It was that quality that had led to a duel between them when he had first landed in Islat in an attempt to gain them as allies. Stamince’s size was comparable to any of the Gargoyle warriors and his strength may even surpass. With his strength and speed as such dangerous skills, it is a shame that there are not more like him within the allied forces.
Across from the Lord Martial was his wife and ruler of Islat, Commander Panamy Justil. Like the rest of the population of Islat, she had the golden yellow hair that was so unusual here in the Empire Seas. Before Mach had ventured to the island that held the city of Islat, he had never before met anyone who had the golden hair that he and his mother had. He had thought for the longest time that the two of them were just two unusual individuals that lived in Selane. But now he knew that his mother had come from Islat, or at least her parents had. He had yet to find any information about any possible family that may reside from Islat from any of the fighters that had come with them from that island, and the limited time he had spent there had been eaten up with trying to gain an alliance. He had thought to ask Panamy about it, but with all that had been going on, he had rarely seen her around.
There were several other Lords sitting around the table, each one felt that he or she was just as important as the people that Mach had by his side. Though that may be true, when it came down to the people of this city and the people around Sirunre, the information that he wanted, that he was looking for each day, had nothing to do with the day to day running of a city. What he wanted to know was what his people could tell him. Which was whether or not there was any new information on Rubious. Somewhere out there the beast was raising a new army and all too soon the man would return to strike again. The sooner they knew where he was, or what he was doing, the better prepared they all could be for the inevitable fight that was to come.
He rubbed his eyes tiredly. This same meeting had been the daily routine now for months with no new information to be found. “Any news from the southern parts yet Panamy?” He asked as a mug of fruity squeezed juice was poured. He thanked the server with a smile and returned his gaze to the leader of the southern scouts.
“There has been no reports so far.” Panamy winked at the boy pouring her mug before continuing. “I don’t want to send any of our scouts into Hell’s Fire itself, but thanks to the scouts on loan to our ships we have been able to see a good ways in. If he is there, he has to travel a long ways just to get to the coast. East of that is the coast line of Arien, I doubt that he is there, but I sent word for my ships to begin searching in that direction.”
That was a bit disappointing and made him grateful at the same time. He wanted to find the beast, but if he could avoid that desert he would. If he had to, he would draw Rubious out into another location just to get out of fighting in those blazing hot sands. “How about from the north. Have we found anything that may show that he had been there?” He asked, looking toward Sehto.
The tracker shrugged his shoulders as part of his reply. “I have heard back from three of the groups sent to the Mage isles, including those that were sent to train and fortify SnowDrift. There is no sign of anything out of place in that area. I had two scout ships checking the old isle of Dragons, last I had heard they had arrived and had checked the coast line. Nothing to report. They were going to move further inland once a clutch of Dragon scouts arrived. They did not feel right about going further into that territory without permission or guides.”
He sighed heavily. “And we know that Sedan is fine, otherwise half the Kingdom would either be on fire or at war.” Why can we not find him? He has to be close.
During the last engagement, Rubious had come to Sirunre with an armed force of nearly thirty thousand. He had done so sailing on a single massive ship that had been ported in the southern most town of the Kingdom of Sirunre. Regardless of whether or not his warriors were constructs, they were living breathing fighters and needed nourishment in order to survive. Such an army would not be able to travel far on a single ship for a long period of time. That pointed to Rubious having been near or in the lands of the Five Empires when he had constructed his army and set sail to attack Sirunre to reclaim his Kingdom. Mendoll believed that when Rubious fled after the fall of his shade ally, he had fled back to wherever his stronghold was. He has to be somewhere near, I know he is. We will find him, I just hope it is sooner rather than later.
Their greatest chance of victory was in finding Rubious before he could amass the kind of army he had last time. He did not have the aid he did last time, so that was a small victory in and of itself. But with every day that went by, it allowed Rubious to rebuild his strength. With all that could be done to prevent Rubious’ rise to Power, it seemed that time was against the allied forces in this part of the war.
Every day he grows more dangerous. “Panamy,” Mach countered, “send word to your scouts. I want them to keep an eye on the coast line of Hell’s Fire as best they can, double ship groups. I want teams scouting from now on. No group should be out alone unless they have multiple Mages with the ability to speak mind to mind at great distances. Sehto, make sure your scouts at Dragons Isle know we need updates quickly. We need to be able to mark that area off the search list. Even after we eliminate every land here in the Empire Seas, he could still be outside of this area. We may have to start thinking of approaching the other Kingdoms and Empires for help in searching and if need be, in help fighting him. If it takes too long to find him, he may be too strong for us to handle.”
“Understood.” The chorus of that single word rang out from the crew that he would trust his life with. He braced himself mentally for what was coming next, what always came next.
“Mach,” Sehto interrupted, “Can I have a word with you, in private?”
Thankful for this chance to get away from what would undoubtedly be an hour of him trying not to fall asleep, he nodded quickly. “Gabriel, can I…”
“Say no more, I can take it from here.” The Grand Lord waved his hand cheerfully and turned his attention fully to the Lords who were sitting at the table, ready to take on the duty that Mach could not. For all that he would do his job and sit through any number of meetings so long as these people aided him in finding and ending Rubious, he was practically bouncing on his heels when he walked out of the room with Sehto beside him.
“I thought you might need a break from that.” The tracker said as they cleared the corner of the hall that led to the meeting room.
Mach smiled cheerfully as a sly grin spread across the trackers face. That cheer was quickly diminished as the thought of what he had just escaped came back to him. “You know all too well that I did. I just can’t stand all that other stuff. Our whole purpose of even being here is to find Rubious. Most of the group thinks that when he strikes again he will try to take Gehnith again, that’s the only reason I want to be here. It is frustrating that these Lords cannot seem to understand that. We aren’t here to govern them.”
“Which is why I thought you might want to take a break from in there.” Sehto added with a sideways glance at him, “You need to release some of that pent up rage before you hurt someone. You’ve spent too much time in those meetings lately, as I am still technically in charge of overseeing your combat training and survival, I am recommending you spend some time doing exactly that. Work out some of that physical stress before it snaps and you end up hurting someone.”
Mach thought back to all those times that he had lost control over his abilities, those times when his stress and temper had gotten the better of him. Sehto had been on the receiving end of one of this instances. He shuddered at the thought of that happening again. That was the last thing that he wanted to happen. He had been able to keep his temper under tight control, but it was entirely possible that his limit could break. What would happen to this alliance if he went into a rage here in the heart of Sirunre and hurt someone? Would they still trust him after an incident like that?
Sehto pushed a door open that led to a court yard that had been turned into a makeshift practice yard. Without knowing what exactly it would be that Rubious would bring the next time he returned, it had been decided that each and every soldier would learn how to combat and deal with a wide range of skills, including a Mage and their abilities. And vice versa, for the Mages to learn the physical combat skills from the soldiers. One of the failing moments of the Great Wars was the fact that hardly any of the Mages who fought for the Mage rebels knew how to wield any weapons. While facing an army that outnumbered you vastly and no time to prepare any large scale spells, an average Mage was only as good as an archer. With an entire army of Mages unable to accomplish large scale magics or wield physical weapons, they were quickly overrun and had to call a retreat. That mistake would not be repeated this time, Mach would make sure that everyone had the best skills possible to ensure the best survival rates.
Standing all around court yard was no less than fifty fighters varying in all backgrounds. Soldiers of Gehnith were training with the Mages as heavily as any of the other groups. And so too were the Mages paying close attention to the any of the Soldiers who would lend them their expertise in combat and survival on the battlefield. Mages who had never once held a sword and shield were now learning to do just that from the any who would show them. And the Mages were showing the soldiers as many tricks they knew on how to dodge and defend against magical attacks.
Mach stopped at stared at the whole lot of them with pride. This had been Mendoll’s dream, as was Mach’s own father’s. But here he was seeing all that they had set in motion decades ago coming to pass.
“Can I assume that you are not here just for an inspection, Sire?” Kineas Enlart asked, his tone mocking but in a way that could only be done between friends. When Mach had first gone to Juiint and had learned of his heritage as heir to the throne, and his heritage as a full Mage, it had been Kineas who had trained him in understanding and perfecting the ability of augmentation on the physical body for combat purposes. It was the first skill that Mach had really mastered. That skill had been life changing for it had been instrumental in his capabilities in battle that had lead him to where he was now. More than once those abilities had enabled him to survive.
“You bet he aint,” Sehto said, pushing him forward. “He needs to work out some anger. Make sure he is able to get his mind off of things.”
Mach looked back to see the tracker wink before turning around and walking off. He shook his head in admiration. His friends knew him better than he knew himself.
“So, need a good workout then.” Kineas clapped his hands together enthusiastically. “I think we can manage that. Get whatever gear you want and meet in the usual spot. I will round us up some volunteers.”
He did as suggested, picking out a dulled metal blade. He had thought to use one of the wooden blades, but he remembered the last time he had used one. When it had shattered over the shield of one of the opponents, it had sent splinters everywhere. He would have to be careful with this, but he would not have to worry about it breaking. He found his spot and stood waiting, thought he did not have to wait for long. Within moments there were seven fighters around him. Two were Mages who had excelled with the augmentation ability as he had, three from the Gehnith ranks and one each from Islat and Sedan. He looked at them all dubiously as Kineas walked up.
“Alright men, this is your chance to prove how much you have learned. Our King is skilled in combat, he has faced Rubious many times now. He fought in the battle for Gehnith from begin to end. So trust me when I say that he is a tough nut to crack. We will start with a two on one formation and work our way up. If you need to break, step away from the ring. When you are ready to return, stand at the edge for a count of ten. Remember, this is only a simulation, but consider this a test of your strength against Rubious. Fighting him will be as hard, or more so, than going up against our King.” Kineas turned to Mach and nodded, “Are you ready?”
He nodded his head and bent his knees. Pulling the Power from within, that ever burning sensation of magic pumping through his veins. He closed his eyes for a moment and willed that magic into every fiber of his body, into the muscles and bones, through ligaments and back through his core. He snapped his eyes open and the world around him glowed like the heavens. He nodded his head once more, crouched low to the ground as two of the trainees came at him. This was exactly what he needed to get his mind off of everything.