The red tower clawed against the churning sky like a flayed finger. Around it, the landscape was scorched and blackened. The green rolling hills, the apple groves and farmhouses and fields… all of it was gone; burned to ashes.
The ground crunched under their boots as they made their way through the destruction. Brithid didn’t have to look down to know that she was walking on the charred remains of the five-thousand men and women that had marched to fight Murduk’s army of spellweavers, demons and ghouls.
They had known that they would most likely face certain death, but they had marched anyway. They had sacrificed everything, including themselves, to give her the chance to reach the red tower, and the monster waiting inside of it.
Ten years ago, the mage Murduk and his army of spellweavers had swept across the world, claiming kingdom after kingdom in a bloody and terrible war until all of Erdor had yielded to the mages. Murduk had claimed the crown of High-King, forcing everyone to bow to him. And so the Age of Magic had begun.
It was an age of fear and violence. Murduk’s thirst for power was unquenchable, and thousands had been put to death so their blood could fuel and augment the dread High-King and his loyal spellweaver’s magic.
The Great Sacrifice, that was what had sparked the first uprising. But it had failed. The former kings and queens who had been forced to see their kingdoms fall to Murduk hadn’t been able to stand against him. They had been too focused on scheming and infighting over who would be the next High-King or Queen once Murduk had been defeated. In the end, they had all been captured by Murduk’s acolytes, and Erdor had echoed with their screams.
They had been fools, Brithid thought. She had been a girl of mere twelve years old when it happened. Like everyone, she had been forced to watch the horrible images projected into the sky by Murduk’s magic. All those men and women with their armies of trained soldiers and knights… They could have defeated the dread Mage King and his spellweavers if they had put their differences aside and worked together.
That thought had burned within her then as it burned within her now almost ten years later. The failed uprising, and the screams of the kings and queens as they were skinned alive and turned into twisted, pitiful heaps of quivering flesh, had driven her onto the path that had lead her here, to this dreaded place.
The red tower.
Despite having all of Erdor bow to his power, it wasn’t enough. Murduk wanted to make himself a god, and the tower that rose up in front of them was a testament to the atrocities committed to fulfill that wish.
For every layer of stone added, Murduk’s powers had grown, until the magic had twisted and changed him. Until he was not human anymore, but something else…
What if he truly is a god? Brithid thought, looking up at the tower, at the red light that flared from its peak like a beacon. Who else could raise the dead and send them to fight their former comrades, friends, families and lovers?
With tears trailing down her cheeks, cutting lines in the blood and grime, she tore her gaze away from the tower and turned to her two companions. “I can’t do it…”
Geirdric, one of the mages who had refused Murduk, looked up from bandaging a wound on his brother, Donnchad’s shoulder. The arrow had been shot by one of the dead soldiers turned into revenants by Murduk’s foul magic, and blood soaked through the already stained gambeson. He stared at the young woman, not knowing what to say. What could he say? Only Brithid alone knew the full weight of the duty that had befallen her. But he could see how it marked her, how it wore her down.
Every soldier dying with the crest of the blue dragon on their chests, and her name on their lips, was like a stab at her heart. Brithid had raised this army, this last rebellion against the dread Mage King and his forces.
They had been farmers, cobblers, tanners and fishermen, standing side by side with poachers, fingersmiths and padfoots. Men and women from every walk of life who had come together to fight the dread Mage King and end his a bloody rule.
Like a flaming arrow, Brithid’s peasant army had set the world ablaze. It had started small, like sparks. A few townships rising up against the spellweavers who ruled them. The mages had always been seen as superior, but Murduk had raised them to be gods. But one after the other, the so called Mage Kings fell, killed by their subjects.
When Brithid called, the people had answered. A few rebels had grown into a large army, and they had marched against the red tower, the heart of Murduk’s empire; the seat of his power.
The spellweavers had thrown everything against them as they clashed together on the battlefields. But Brithid’s army had persevered. Those spellweavers who had resisted Murduk’s call had stood with them, healing the injured or raining destruction down on Murduk’s blood mages.
Months of bloody campaign, and it had ended like this. They had thrown themselves against the red tower only to be met by a storm of fire. Conjured by Murduk and his acolytes and fueled by blood, it had engulfed the battlefield, burning friend and foe alike.
Out of thousands of men and women, only Brithid, Geirdric, Donnchad and the young mage apprentice Idaenn had been spared.
The girl was sitting a few steps away, her freckled face white beneath the soot. As if feeling Geirdric’s eyes on her, she climbed to her feet. She looked as distraught as they all felt, but she straightened, her grip tight and steady on her staff.
Was it fate, or was it perhaps sheer luck that they hadn’t yet arrived in the valley when Murduk let loose his flames? Only the Weaving Sisters knew, and they kept their knowledge to themselves. But Geirdric could sense the converging threads, the tangled knots. It all came down to this. Either the four of them faced Murduk and defeated him, or the world would fall to the darkness and chaos of the blood mages.
He opened his mouth to share his insight with them, but Donnchad beat him to it.
“We’re the only ones left”, the warrior said in a gruff tone of voice. “We either kill the bastard or die trying. There is nothing else. Now, let’s go.”