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The Ancients of Seasons

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Hunter. Monster. Murderer. Mal Aranos had many names. But those were in the past - a past he desperately wished to put to rest. He is also a delva - half-human, half-kaer - and while seen as royalty by his peers, this comes at a cost: to be despised or to be feared. Now, after ten years of exile, the de-legitimized prince of Eventus is pulled away from isolation at the news of his missing father, Tel Aranos. Mal learns that his father sought an audience with Equinox, the most powerful dragon in the realm of Cadere. After witnessing his mother's murder at a young age, Mal will stop at nothing to keep his father alive, even if that means facing the apex dragon himself. Why his father would undertake such a treacherous task, however, is unknown to Mal. With the two human nations preparing for war, Westar Baros, the man at the helm of the dispute, may have sided with a powerful witch... a witch that could still use magic. In a time where many believe the use of magic is nothing but a myth, a bannerless sorceress could be the key to victory. With the surmounting tension in Cadere, Mal realizes that there is more at stake than his personal pursuit. On the surface, the mortal world is engaged in a war of ideals and racial co-existence. But Mal suspects a greater conflict emerging, especially when he discovers that his own father is mixed up in it somehow.

Trevor Kolins
Age Rating:


From the Plains of Elar, Grathis Sornstead surveyed the vastness of the swamp. The moss-covered undergrowth and tall, bare trees stretched for miles. Yet as he and his men drew nearer, Morroc Swamp’s true identity revealed itself; a diseased forest, pale and lifeless. The air was thick and suffocating, and a warm fog littered the landscape.

I can see how myths and children’s stories are created by this place, Grathis thought as he led his men through the soft ground and muddy peat. He commanded eleven soldiers of the Guard as their captain and was charged with investigating bandit activity in the area, as well as one other task… one he kept from his men. Rumors were spreading and reports accumulating of soldiers vanishing in the lands surrounding the swamp. The Narrows are to the south, and they are dangerous – everyone knows that. But there is no evidence of murder… no bodies have been uncovered, and squads are disappearing in droves…

The sounds kept them alert; the brooding bugs, ticking, and whistling about. Even the eerie stillness of the water somehow made its presence known. His men were quiet, and Grathis wondered what sort of myths they chose to believe. I wonder if I should tell them why we are really here… what General Ballinger had assigned me with. Grathis decided against it, however. He was not even sure if he believed it.

“Morroc Swamp is one of the largest swamps in Cadere, how in the Unknown are we supposed to find anything in here?” Ebbard Stonely asked, spitting in frustration.

“We’ll see what we can see,” Grathis responded plainly. “The day is still young. Keep your eyes open for a suitable place to set up camp… it might be tricky to find an ideal spot out here.”

Grathis navigated his horse past a giant pile of mud. An ideal spot may be a challenge, indeed. Morroc Swamp’s glooming wastes stretched far, almost reaching the citadel of Hornsboth in the southwest. The locals in these parts warn travelers to stay clear and for valid reasons. The witch… It made Grathis laugh thinking about it. Witches and wizards were a thing of the past. No one had witnessed real magic since the First Age. But General Ballinger appointed this task to my men and me. He’s not a man to believe in such nonsense unless there was hard evidence…

Hours went by and they came across nothing. Living things were scarce, and everything was decayed or rotten. All that existed were bugs and more bugs. Grathis’ men were growing restless, but he grew eager, and the weariness of his soldiers worried him.

“Captain, surely this foul air can’t be good for our health,” pleaded Smitty, who looked about nervously. Smitty was a coward, everyone agreed. Why he joined the Guard – and how he kept a post as a soldier – Grathis would never know.

“Smitty, if I wanted cravens on this squadron, then I would have asked for ten more,” replied the captain. The truth was, however, most of his men were appointed to him. Only with experience and laurels could a captain assign their own soldiers. Damon’s hand-selected some of his men. I’m just as capable as he is, and I’ll prove it to him and everyone else.

The previous four days went by effortlessly. Grathis and his squad rode from Dawns, and across the western wilds. Now they moved languidly, impeded by the swampland. This is no place for horses. The thick undergrowth was difficult to tread, and several horses were struggling. One neighed loudly and reared its rider off. The man Grathis believed to be named Timothy Waller fell on his back, sinking two feet into the soft mud, cursing all the while. A few men laughed; even Grathis held back a smile. “Some help, here?” Timothy complained.

Grathis ordered a halt to the group once Timothy was back on his feet, and contemplated their situation. There was no end to the damp bog.

“Let the horses go,” Grathis commanded his men.

“What do we do when we get out of this forsaken place without any mounts?” Smitty asked.

“It’s not far from Hornsboth, we can get horses there, and hopefully some new boots too,” Grathis said, trying to kick some of the mud off his plated boot. “Timothy may need a whole new set of armor,” he joked.

“I wish we had stayed at Cragstone just a little longer,” Boran Demfort admitted as he unsaddled himself. “Their kaeran wine is to die for.”

“I can’t stand that swill,” said Ebbard. “Fire whiskey does the job. Those orcs sure know how to make good booze.”

“… And kill brain cells,” Grathis said. He was not much of a drinker, but oftentimes it was all there was to do whilst on duty. If they traveled from Dawns, they usually stayed in towns and patrolled the borders. His cousin, Damon, was tasked with patrolling Northwatch, and was always on the road. Now those are soldiers, Grathis reflected. It’s only the first mission for most of my men. He studied at their faces. Few were older, but most were young and inexperienced. They were decent, honest men, despite their lack of subtleties, and they were all the captain had. He would turn them into fine soldiers yet.

Their twelve horses were released to wander back to Cragstone. Damn this place, Grathis cursed. The swamp was paradoxical in nature: the air was dry and warm, but the ground beneath was wet and cold. Why would anyone in the world want to live here, even some crazed sorceress?

A sharp howl shrieked off in the distance, and all twelve men came to a halt.

“A werewolf?” one of the Guardsmen asked in a hushed voice.

Grathis rolled his eyes, and let out a long sigh. He could not be frustrated at their naivety. They likely believed all sorts of nonsense about why soldiers were disappearing. What’s more realistic, a werewolf roaming the lands or the fabled witch of Morroc Swamp enslaving the minds of soldiers? It was a tough question, Grathis realized, finding the humor in it.

“There are no werewolves this far west,” Grathis said. “Werewolves require a substantial amount of meat. Tell me how many wild animals you have seen wandering around since we got here.” When nobody answered he knew his logic was sound. “We need to find somewhere to set up camp. We are running out of daylight.”

Grathis’ skin was layered in sweat, and his armor itched and weighed him down. Bugs whistled past them and were a constant annoyance; a reminder that their last post at Sirrans Gate was not so bad. The soldiers approached a peculiar section of the swampland; the tall grass had shrunk and the surrounding area was more visible. There was less water around them and they finally had solid ground to tread upon.

“This spot will do,” Grathis said. He sat down against a felled tree on a dry patch of land. Thoughts led to his cousin, Damon, and the last time they had seen each other. He missed him, truthfully, but Grathis was still angered and wounded by the last thing Damon said to him. He was wrong, he must know that. Why would he say such words after everything we went through together? Grathis never reached out to him after that conversation, and was since laden with guilt. Northwatch was dangerous to patrol, and if anything ever happened to Damon he would never forgive himself for the silence over the years.

“… Werewolves,” Ebbard said, snickering.

Boran bellowed, laughing along with Ebbard. Even Timothy joined in the laughter. Grathis could not help but laugh into his glove alongside his men.

A short time went by after they had settled in. Grathis thought the time was right to broach the subject of the witch and the nature of their mission. “Listen up… there is something I must tell you.”

The eleven soldiers gathered around him. Okay, here we go. But something felt… off. Grathis looked around their campsite… at the rising fog. A soothing serenity came over him. His men began to look at each other with confused expressions.

“Don’t you feel it?” he asked them.

The Guardsmen stared at each other through their helms in close proximity. No one said a word.

“There’s nothing,” Smitty was the first to say.

“Yes,” Grathis agreed. “There’s no crickets, no flies… nothing.”

Then Grathis heard it, a whisper at first. It became more audible as the twelve of them looked around in dismay. Is it a song? No… it’s too hard to make out. What is it?

Grathis gulped forcibly. The legend was true. The voice was that of a woman, foul, yet beautiful at once. She spoke an enchantment through the mists, yet there was no one in sight. They do not train to fight songs in the Guard; this was a battle Grathis was not ready for. I should have told them… I should have warned them. What have I done? Damon, my cousin, my best friend, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

“Run…” he attempted to shout to his kinsmen, but his voice was strained.

Every man froze, unable to move or speak. The song of the witch had caught their ears. Grathis tried with all his might to reach for his sword, but to what end? What use was metal against magic?

And that’s when he saw her; a dark figure moving towards him from the white shadows of the swamp.

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