The Reality Saga Volume I - The Song of Steel

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Chapter Ten

Reports were coming in from all over the kingdom – the True King had returned, and he had gone mad with rage when his lady love had been taken before his eyes. Schala sat quietly in a bed of soft down, nervously working the nails on her left hand down to the edges. Nothing made sense to her – everything had been thrown into complete chaos. After destroying the Magus battalion that had assaulted the castle and half the castle and its denizens along with it, Atolibus had roared off into the sky. Everywhere it was reported that he was seen death followed him, as he set about slaying Magus troops everywhere across the land.

And yet despite his best efforts it seemed to no avail – Magus were marching openly in the streets of large cities, taking fortress by fortress. After four days of tense waiting the worst news came to her and Sarcodus – Castle Lothanis had fallen and had been occupied by the Magus. It was rumored that Elvina was nowhere to be seen, but men and women in black now reigned supreme in the seat of power in the land. Organized resistance groups were beginning to spring up everywhere and chaos soon became the only constant. Sarcodus had taken her to a bolthole in the distant countryside, a two room dwelling carefully concealed inside hilly terrain that offered safety but little else. He had somehow managed to direct news from Atolibus’ Network straight to himself, and she suspected some manner of prior arrangement.

“Damn that fucking woman,” she heard him mutter to a young man dressed in tattered rags, a young man that held himself far better than any beggar she’d ever seen. She saw him press a small coin into the man’s hands and then watched the lad disappear into the darkness outside their temporary residence. Sarcodus closed the door and latched it, leaning against it out of exhaustion, breathing heavily of the scent of the bare earth that served as their walls. It seemed he had bent all of his efforts to finding the young woman in white when he had finally accepted that Atolibus, at the moment, was beyond any mortal man’s reach. She heard Sarcodus mutter the word ‘prophecy’ as if it were a curse, and she could see the rage building in him again.

“You look rather tense,” she said quietly, breaking the silence between the two of them. He started in his place, and appeared to have forgotten she was there. He sighed with dismissal momentarily, and wiped a hand across his brow.

“All of this is as it is supposed to be,” he said, fatigue lacing his tones. “That doesn’t make it any less difficult, however. And the girl, she should not have done what she did.” He shook his head, pacing the floor. “And yet I understand why. She’s in love with him. Love makes you do things that cannot be rationalized by sane folk.”

“How do we know she wasn’t killed in the conflagration that destroyed half of the castle?” Schala said. He shook his head.

“No matter how lost to his more primal side, Atolibus would never let that happen,” Sarcodus said, shaking his head yet again, dismissing the possibility. They had been over this ground before, and yet it seemed to be the point they kept returning to. In the weeks that had passed, there had been little else to do but sit and wait. Whenever he wasn’t meeting with a member of the Network, Sarcodus paced and fretted over every single detail. She gathered that he felt a large sense of responsibility over what had happened, and yet when she asked him about it he would clam up and fall dead silent. Wishing to avoid yet another heated argument she steered the conversation in another direction.

“What of the castle? Any word on the efforts to root the Magus out?” she said. Sarcodus shook his head once more.

“I doubt anyone but Atolibus himself will be able to do that,” he said quietly, sadly. “We need to face reality, and right now reality is that Castle Lothanis, possibly the kingdom itself, is lost to us.” He sighed, head hanging. “If the man were here in rein of his senses none of this would have happened. That, I promise you, was the point behind the initial attack itself. A small enough force not to seem an overwhelming threat, yet laced with deadly intent. Once Kristina was in danger he would have felt it, and we saw what happened then.” Sarcodus sat on the bed he used across the small room from Schala and leaned against the earthen wall behind him. “It may be some time before he calms down, and in that time greater harm than you can imagine may be done to this land. All ready Magus march openly in the larger cities of the land. Word has come to me that Mekarta has fallen.” Schala’s breath caught in her throat, even as Sarcodus laughed. “Can you believe it? One look at an army at their doorstep and the Viceroys handed power over with great pomp and flair. Made a feast of it, even, proclaiming their new masters.”

“That isn’t terribly surprising,” she said. “They don’t exactly have a standing army to their name – Mekarta hasn’t fielded troops in centuries, and even if you gave me command of a division or three they’re far enough away that I doubt we’d manage any good.” Sarcodus rubbed his chin in consternation, nodding.

“I have this to say for the Magus – they are playing the long game, for once,” he said. “Nothing ill has happened in the party city, so far as I can divine, and others that have heard are beginning to wonder if surrender might be the safer option.” He slammed his fist against the wall, hard. “Damn the Magus. We thought this threat was safely distant, slow to grow... for all the word that had been spreading throughout the land, we were blind. We should have known this was coming. This is too grand, too organized, too complex even for one of Elvina Elise’s schemes.” And Schala knew that he was right – for all that the woman was known for her tactical prowess, this plan had to stretch too far back for all of the pieces to fall into place just so.

“Someone else is behind this, then,” she said. He nodded noncommittally. “Who, then? Who has the power or the skill to accomplish a feat of this magnitude, if not Elvina?” Thinking of that woman still filled her with rage – so much death in her name, nearly her very own. And yet seeing her face to face had put fear in her soul, even if she wouldn’t admit it to herself.

“I don’t know,” Sarcodus said, wringing his hands. “That’s what frightens me the most. Someone more powerful and more talented than Elvina Elise has not been seen since the beginning of the reign of the True King.” And there it was again – Atolibus, the True King. He had changed in the skies above Castle Lothanis into his original form in this world, and it had not gone well for anyone. If Sarcodus was right and prophecy did foretell his necessity then a lot of people were going to suffer a great deal before things were set to rights. She knew what he had done on the field of a battle, in the weeks before the world came crashing down around them. She had felt it from a distance with her own Gift, seen the smoldering aftermath and had shivered in fear then. To feel that power so close at hand was something completely alien, and utterly terrifying to behold. She had not known that a living man could possess such strength, not even the Regent.

“Tell me about the True King,” Schala said quietly. Sarcodus stopped wringing his hands and stared her dead in the eye. This was something new.

“What do you want to know?” he said.

“I want to know what happened above the castle, two weeks ago,” she said resolutely. “I want to know why he changed, and just what it was that he changed into. I have seen him in the form of the True King once before. Twice, actually, now that I think about it.”

“He showed you that, did he?” Sarcodus said. She nodded. He sighed again, weary. “He’s never shown anyone that, even women he loved. I’m going to assume Kristina was there as well?” Again, Schala nodded. “I had thought as much. I’d wondered why she didn’t come with us, why she didn’t seem to be afraid. There’s another thing – that woman is powerful, more powerful than perhaps you and I when she gains mastery over her Gift.” He shook his head. “Sodding prophecy yet again. In all my years I’ve never seen it behave quite so obviously as it has of late.” He lay down on the bed, reclining gracefully. Schala noted that but for the gray in his otherwise brown hair and the weariness of his teal-blue eyes he carried himself as a man in the prime of his youth, lithe and graceful. Given the right circumstances she would have found herself attracted to him... as it stood she could barely tolerate the man’s presence. They had been wearing at each other for the past two weeks, tucked into such tight confines, and the possibility of one of the snapping and doing something foolish was drawing ever nearer.

“Fate is a tricky thing, I agree,” she said. “However I didn’t ask you about fate, or about Kristina... though her situation also worries me. I asked you about the True King. Tell me more about him, and what happened two weeks ago.”

“Very well,” Sarcodus said. “If Atolibus showed you the form I am also going to guess that he told you some of his story.” Schala nodded lightly. “So the basics, the beginning, you understand. You can also understand something of the nature of the True King – he is hard, stone hard, the iron fist of raw power, where Atolibus is the velvet glove of diplomacy and reason. Ultimately despite anything you might think they are the same man, just two very different aspects of the personality.” Sarcodus mused silently for a moment before continuing, sitting up and leaning against the wall again. “You might look at Atolibus like a gem, a very well cut, faceted gem. There are dozens of sides, all reflecting a slightly different light. Any man or woman is like this, really, he’s no different in that respect. Over time... a great deal of time, a thousand years in fact, most of those facets have been smoothed into one continuous surface. Thus we have Atolibus Sandrin, powerful mage, master swordsman, full of mysteries great and deep.”

“But the surface is just that – the surface. Underneath lies the core of his power. Underneath lies the True King. Unmerciful, unforgiving – Light does not care for such niceties, Light is not given to human sentiment.” Sarcodus mused in silence once more, losing himself in thought. Schala waited several moments for him to speak again, and made to say something when he began once more. “I’ll admit I’m surprised to see him as he is. I had thought he’d conquered that storm... but I’ve been wrong before. As prophecy says, only ‘the return of the True King’ will save us in our hour of greatest need. I fear what darkness awaits us in the days ahead.” He shuddered and would say no more on the subject.

And so it was that they passed their time, gathering news from the Network, waiting to hear word of Atolibus’ whereabouts, or Kristina’s. Of the former he had been spotted recently high in the skies of Andelvyn, deep in the southeastern corner of the Ten Realms. Wherever he was seen lances of light streaked forth from the clouds and destroyed groups of Magus soldiers in their boots. He didn’t leave anyone behind, showed no mercy even to the youngest and rawest of recruits, and yet he had not come near Castle Lothanis since the first day. For what reason Schala could not divine, save perhaps that he feared that the final destruction of the castle and its remaining inhabitants would put the nail in the coffin of the line of Lothanis. Or such that remained, anyways. The king was suffering under the lingering death, as close to death’s doorstep as one could be without actually dying, and there was naught left of the higher line of nobility to reclaim the throne.

Perhaps Atolibus feared actually killing the king, and ending the line once and for all? Neither of them could say. It was all she could do of late to keep him from going mad with frustration. The news they kept receiving never got any better. They learned after another week that the capital cities of Rimsfall and Redmond had both fallen to the Magus, and that Grand Baltha, the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Baltha, was on the verge of collapse from constant civil uprisings and desertions in the armies. There was not a kingdom in the entire land that was not embroiled in strife and chaos, and this, she gathered, was perhaps the ultimate goal of the Magus – to destabilize the Ten Realms far enough to finally take control of the lot of it.

“When was the last time the Ten Realms of Syreal were united as one?” she asked Sarcodus, sitting on her bed and staring blankly at the wall in front of her. His head rising slightly from the scrolls he was enmeshed in was the only sign that he heard her.

“More than a thousand years ago, before the True King, before the fall of the Vorathi, even,” he said. “Why do you ask?”

“It just occurred to me,” she said, “that the conditions we are facing now are similar to those that brought about the advent of the True King in the first place.” Sarcodus seemed to be listening – he hadn’t buried his head in his reports again just yet. “Only this time they seem to have anticipated that power and divested us of our greatest weapon.”

“It’s a clever little trap, isn’t it?” he said, turning his chair to face her and leaning back. She nodded. “We know Elvina isn’t ultimately responsible for our predicament. The conditions have been bubbling for too long, this plan stretches too far back for this to have been carried out in her name. It would have taken more than her limited years to execute chaos on such a large scale.”

“Then what do we do about it?” she said. “I grow weary of sitting here on my hands, doing nothing. I’ve been a soldier all of my life – that’s never been my way. We need some kind of plan of action, something, anything. I fear I will go completely mad if I have to stay in this house doing nothing for another week.”

“I too share your concern,” Sarcodus said. “And I haven’t been idle – I’ve been weighing our options for the last few weeks. As I see it we really only have two choices – either we find Atolibus and attempt to bring him to reason... something I doubt is within our power, to be honest. Kristina will be required to bring him under control, of that I have no doubt.”

“Why don’t we find her, then?” Schala said.

“She is beyond our power,” he said softly, eyes growing distant. “I’ve had... word... of her whereabouts.” Schala bolted out of her bed, eyes glowing with rage.

“You knew where she was all of this time and you said nothing?” she said. “How could you? You know I’ve wanted to find her from day one, you know it. Explain.”

“For this very reason,” he replied, voice flat. “Because of what she is, and because of who you are.” Schala sat back down, her equilibrium upset. “Don’t even bother trying to hide it from me. I know exactly why you want to go after her, and I am telling you that she is beyond our reach.”

Where, then?” Schala said.

“Castle Lothanis.”

Kristina decided that holding back from screaming was pointless. Her captors would simply apply more pressure, and she would scream anyways. So she screamed until her voice went hoarse and blacked out shortly afterwards. When she came to she found she was lying on the stone floor in her cell. For weeks she had been a captive of the Magus in a dank dungeon, uncertain of her location, uncertain of when they would finally step too far, draw too much blood, and she would pass unto Death’s embrace. She feared it may come to that. She had never felt such pain in her life before, and that had only been the first hour. Each day had become progressively worse, and she found it more and more difficult to drag herself to her feet time and again.

And then there were the rapes. She had never truly feared being raped, even as a young woman. She’d always been skilled with a staff or her bare hands, and had never had much to fear from any single man. The first time had been three. She had killed one with her Gift before it had been sealed off, had ripped another man’s throat out with her teeth and had unmanned the third with her hands. All the while her captors watched behind darkened glass, laughing the entire time. She had thought that might be the end of it – she had proven she was no easy meat, and she doubted any man would want a piece of her after what she had done to the third Magus. She remembered the savage glee she’d felt as she ripped his testicles from his body with her bare hands, and the look of shock and sudden agony on his face as he cried out.

That had been the first time. The second time, she had been strapped at five points restraint to a massive oaken table and had her garments torn from her. A very large, very naked man with a grotesquely enormous phallus had hovered over her writhing body, leering and panting with want. They hadn’t let him have her – no, a boy of sixteen had been forced into the room at the point of a sword, nude as well, well built but slight of frame, manhood hanging flaccid between his legs. She remembered the words that would chill her to the end of her days.

“To keep your life, all you must do is take her as your own,” a deep, unknown voice boomed throughout the room. “Mount this woman and take your pleasure of her, and we shall let you walk free.” Kristina had hoped he would do the honorable thing, yet she was not surprised when she saw him stiffening before her. Nor was she truly angry at him – forced into a life or death choice when the only option for life was an act of wanton sex, she could not find it in herself to blame him. She knew she herself was not a grotesque woman. All the injuries that the Magus did to her body were healed with magic at the end of every day. She found the courage to look him in the eyes as he rose above her and poised himself between her legs. She saw him mouth the words ′I am sorry, milady’, nodded her admittedly forced consent to him, then felt warmth and the throbbing of his manhood as he entered her. The voice spoke once more.

“When you feel the end drawing near you are not allowed to have fulfillment inside of her.” More raucous laughter. What did it matter if he fulfilled in her? She doubted she would live long enough to bear any child he might get upon her even if she were somehow miraculously still fertile after everything they’d done to her. He thrust himself into her repeatedly for perhaps a minute before she felt him start to tense up. Within seconds he was shuddering with pleasure as he withdrew from her and released his seed upon her belly. Shortly thereafter he hopped off of the table. The smile he was wearing came to an abrupt end when a massive burst of magical energy ripped a hole through his body and left him blinking, stunned at the death blow that had just been dealt. She screamed, struggling against her restraints. Damnable Seneschals. Then came the whips once more, and she lost consciousness yet again.

“She has been there the entire time, and you haven’t said a word?” Schala said. Sarcodus allowed the woman to vent her anger – it might do some good for the both of them to do a little shouting, he decided.

“I did, and I would do it again,” he said, growling back. He was surprised at the intensity of his words. “Your judgment is clouded, do not deny it.” Schala looked askance for a moment, but Sarcodus pursued the thread. “Don’t you fucking look away from me right now, gods’ eyes. Think for a second, you harebrained woman.” Schala’s head whipped back in his direction and her eyes locked with his. He had forgotten the steel that could be in a soldier’s gaze, when one was in a fury such as Schala’s. He resolved himself to continue the path he’d been heading down. “If you were to go storming in there, even with a division, even with an army at your back, the best that could happen would be all of your deaths and probably hers and mine thrown into the bargain, just for the Magus’ pleasure. We do not have the resources to tackle Castle Lothanis, not ourselves. I told you, it’s going to take Atolibus to root the Magus from that warren.”

“We have to do something or I’m going to explode, I swear to you,” Schala said. “Staying in this house has been grating at me for weeks. I can’t stand another minute of it.”

“Then let me continue from where I left off, before you interrupted me,” he said quietly. “What I was saying was that we have two choices – find Atolibus, which I all ready explained is beyond our capability. Even if we found him, we’d need Kristina... and to reach her, we need him. Nasty circle, that. So I propose this – the Soul Egg.”

“The what now?” she said, voice flat.

“Completed, the Soul Egg is a powerful artifact of magic that can reverse the lingering death,” he said. Schala’s breath caught in her throat – something powerful enough to reverse the lingering death? It shouldn’t be possible... and yet when he spoke of it she knew it was.

“And you know this how?” she said.

“I created it.” At that, silence. She made to open her mouth for a moment and let it close again.

The True King hovered alone in the skies, high above the rapidly decaying kingdom of Lothanis. He didn’t know how he’d gotten to where he was or where exactly he was over the kingdom but it mattered little. His goal was a singular one, and simple enough given the current circumstances – find any Magus he could and slay them. The only reason he slew them efficiently was to move on and slay more. Given all the time in the universe he would have tortured each one of them for an eternity before granting them deliverance in the form of death. He was Light... and incapable of caring for the measure of human suffering he was meting out. So long as a Magus drew breath he would continue to hunt them down. Elysdeon shimmered in his hands, glowing with the power he was feeding it.

In the first moments when he had released his power there was nothing save the blinding fury of pure Light unleashed. He had slaughtered every man and woman of the Magus’ forces that he saw on that day, along with a goodly number of his own men and a chunk of the city and the castle, besides. Seeing Kristina imperiled and then injured, losing her in the confusion, had caused him to lose all control. At that moment he had no care for who died, only that they all burned for what they had done. Minutes later when the carnage had finished he screamed off towards the northern skies, raining destruction upon another Magus corps that was out on maneuvers a few hundred miles north of the city. Over 30,000 soldiers died in a flash of light that rendered anyone staring directly at it blind. After that... he could not recall clearly. He only knew that any time he moved in the direction of Castle Lothanis his instincts strongly urged him to do otherwise. He readily turned his attention elsewhere – there were other targets to seek out, other prey to hunt.

A week later, he realized he was slowly but surely beginning to regain control over himself and his power. He had been hunting Magus down ceaselessly, and to little effect – nearly every major city was under their control, despite his constant effort. It hadn’t been enough. All the years of his patient work were being completely unraveled in the face of a full out onslaught of the Shadow, the likes of which the land had not seen in a millennium. For every Magus he killed it seemed as if five more sprang up. Perhaps what surprised him the most was what he found when he visited Mekarta.

“We can assure you, Master Magus, the city is yours,” a wizened old man in violet robes said to a black-armored figure standing before him. The Viceroys of Mekarta had met in full session, every one attending in proper governmental attire to address the Magus representatives that had been sent to oversee the city. Thus far, no one had been killed, and the city had not been sacked. To the eyes of the common folk things were going on as they always did, and few seemed to care for the soldiers in black marching down their streets.

The Viceroys knew otherwise. It had not taken a single word from the Lord General that had rode up to them at the van of an enormous army to convince them that surrender would be a safer route than resistance. What chance did they have? Mekarta had no standing army of its own, and most of its citizens were simple folk that had little use for fighting or knowledge of such dealings. And then there were the profits. There were always profits to be had, if one had the right eye for such things. The Magus provided a unique opportunity, if used correctly, and the Viceregency knew this.

“Your assurances mean little to me, Viceroy Calamon,” the Magus, pins denoting him as a Captain, hissed through grated teeth. “Know that if it pleased me, I would have your head where you stand, and think little of it. The only reason you survive is your continued obeisance – waver in that in the slightest and all of you will die screaming. Now. Report. There have been increases of violent crime in the city since you handed control over to us – I wish to know why.” The Magus Captain tapped the hilt of his sword in its scabbard, grinning. “And if I do not find your answer satisfactory I may very well make good on my promise.” The Viceroy’s eyes widened, shock riddling his features. “You wouldn’t want that, would you? The Seneschals know how to make pain such as they deal... and it is prodigious, let me assure you... last nearly an eternity. At least that’s how it will seem to you. As I said, it matters not to me.” Viceroy Calamon bowed rapidly, prostrating himself before the visage of evil before him.

“Please, my Lord, we have done as you have asked, we opened the city to you, and there have been no citizen uprisings,” he said, chin quivering. “As to the increase in crime... I know I risk my life in saying this, but perhaps you would be so kind as to release my City Watch from their imprisonment? Without the Watch to stand guard I fear that the ne’er do wells of our city are seeking to take advantage of the... unique situation.” The Captain delivered him a backhand blow with an armored fist that set him spinning and knocked him to the ground.

“The presence of the Magus should quell any such concerns,” he spat venomously. “I want to know what you are doing about it – my men grow restless. They have not been allowed the pleasures of the flesh in many months, while we’ve been out on deployment.” The Captain looked around the room, eyes boring holes in the female members of the Council. “Perhaps you would offer yourselves to slake their thirst, in that they may see to the good of your citizens? No? I thought not.” He drew his blade, leveling it at Calamon’s eyes. “Mark my words. The next time I hear of one of my men being accosted, or any of our supplies being vandalized, the first head I will take will be yours.” He rammed his sword back into its scabbard and whirled about, leaving the room with his entourage. Waiting a moment to be certain they had left, the Viceroy dragged himself to his feet.

“What should we do?” a younger female member of the Council asked, voice quavering. He spat blood from his mouth along with two broken teeth and wiped it from his lips.

“As we’re told,” he said. “I don’t care how it’s done. See to it.” He strode from the room, weary and terrified that each breath he drew would be his last. As he walked down the Grand Hall towards the exit of the Palace, he saw a single figure in white plate standing alone amidst the corpses of the Magus he had just been speaking to. The urge to kneel was overpowering and he stopped in his tracks, prostrating himself once more to this glorious, terrible figure, this entity of Light. He had never seen the man before but he was at once certain that he knew him from somewhere. His dreams, perhaps.

“More like your nightmares,” the man said to him, striding towards him, corpses forgotten. A massive golden sword hung from his hands, sizzling with power and dripping with the blood of his foes.

“My liege, please, spare my miserable life. I did what must be done to protect my people,” he said from his knees. The radiant entity stood before him, judge and jury, sword clenched tightly in his hands as if awaiting some decision from the aether.

“Your death would serve no purpose, now,” he said, voice stone and ice. “However, you can never be trusted again – how quickly you broke disgusts me. I can see it in your eyes.” The entity’s eyes narrowed into dangerous slits, radiating hatred. “You did not do what you did out of self sacrifice for your people – you did what you did for your own selfish reasons, your own head. Better to have died than to let cowardice rule you.” He turned around as if to leave, and then stopped, turning his head to the side. “When this war is over and the Magus have been swept from the land I shall return to remove you from your head if you are still within a hundred miles of this city. I pronounce you banished, never to return. Leave this place this very night or suffer my wrath.” The brilliant light that shone behind the man’s eyes promised a death worse than any the Magus may have given him, and Calamon turned and ran in the other direction, not stopping until he was well clear of the city.

Allowing his rage to simmer to full boil, the True King streaked high into the sky and, through magical means, addressed the entire city in a manner that they could all hear and interpret.

“This is treachery most vile,” he shouted into the night sky. “For your crimes against the Ten Realms, I do hereby sentence every one of you to death. And you shall pay for your crimes this very night. Receive your sentence, now, and suffer the consequences of betraying Me and Mine.” Light – pure, unadulterated and undiluted Light – blazed around his entire body as he gathered his power. Howling with bestial fury he unleashed himself upon the party city, smiling as it disappeared in a flash that left no trace of what had once been there. Every building was scoured down to the foundation; what remained was ground into nothingness. In a moment, when the dust settled, all that was left was bare earth, clean and pure, open to the rain that began to fall. Satisfied with his work, the True King flew off into the night sky.

How long had it been, he wondered, since he destroyed Mekarta? Days? A week perhaps? He did not know. He was beginning to lose his sense of time as he continued his solitary quest to vanquish the Magus. Thousands of soldiers he killed, dozens of fortifications he razed, never ceasing, never hesitating, meting out death wherever he went. The citizens of the land grew to fear his coming nearly as they feared the Magus, for more than a few lives had been lost as collateral damage to his rampaging madness. Word had begun to spread that the True King was actually the Regent, hiding among them the entire time, and people began to wonder about their king and his less kindly nature. In the days and weeks that followed not a life in the land remained untouched by the fires of war.

After another two weeks, the True King stopped suddenly. It was midday, when or where he could not say, but he realized he had been killing for a month solid. He knew there was something wrong... something missing. If he could but put his finger to it... he alighted, landing softly in lush grasslands. There was someone approaching... someone he knew, someone he was close to, someone with power. He turned to the south, awaiting their arrival.

Sarcodus had awoken one morning a month after their entire ordeal began to find Schala missing. He cursed himself for seven kinds of fool, for he knew exactly where she had gone.

“I cannot fault her for loving her child,” he said quietly to himself, “but I worry for that woman... no matter, it’s out of my hands now.” He quickly dressed and donned his plate and mail, buckling his sword belt on last. Checking the house for a moment, he realized that their time here was done – there was nothing left for them. As a hiding place he knew it would soon be uncovered – he had stopped receiving reports from the Network when the previous day’s messenger had been deeply tainted with the Shadow. So much so, in fact, that Sarcodus had beheaded him without a word the moment the man stepped within reach of his sword. So much for that resource. If one was corrupt then more were, and more importantly the Network knew where he was. They would bring the Magus down upon him and at the very least burn him out, if they didn’t want to torture him first. There was always the magic of teleportation but that was something he was holding against the last desperate moment – escaping would do him little good if he handed the enemy the very means to track him down.

Their search for the Soul Egg, however, had not been entirely fruitless. In the past two weeks, they had uncovered two more fragments, one buried in ruins deep in the western plains of the kingdom, another one given to them by an old lady in the ruined city of Brenhel. A family heirloom, she said. If only she knew. That had been four days ago, and Schala’s mood had grown darker with each passing day. Therefore it came as no surprise to him when he awakened early that spring morning that she was gone. He had known she would do it eventually – he just hadn’t known when. In truth he was glad – now she would be out of his hair and he would be free to do what needed to be done. He hadn’t been lying when he said Atolibus was beyond reach, but by the gods, he was going to try. They needed him back, and of sound mind. He wished Schala good luck, and hoped she didn’t get herself killed. He was starting to grow fond of the woman, even though she drove him batty.

“Good luck to you, milady,” he said to himself before leaving the house. “Try and keep it together for me?”

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