Currently on hiatus. Will resume in July, or sooner.

Current story updates:

Current story interludes/Side stories:
Every other Saturday

Other pieces:
Every other Saturday (Saturdays I don't run the Interludes/Side Stories)

During certain periods updates may come more often; at other times updates may come less often. This schedule is my hoped-for goal.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sigilian 23, Siglian 24, Sigilian 25, Sigilian 26

100th post! Thought I'd make a big deal about it. Sorry about the delay in updates.


Robert rode through the pass with caution.
He knew that it would be a good place for an ambush, and he did not want to be caught in one. Not without having a chance to Sketch and without any armour of any kind.
But, he passed through without incident and looked down at the small village below.
Nestled between the foothills of two mountains it was small, beautiful, and safe. A wall at the front and the natural walls of the mountain prevented it from being attacked by bandits making it a haven in an otherwise dangerous area.
And of course, the fact that it was a haven, safe from bandits while you were inside meant that it was a popular destination with travelers. Which meant that there were even more bandits in the area ready and waiting to prey on the unaware.
It was a bad cycle, but, he had learned, was fairly common.
Why was Destria so inept at taking care of the bandit problems that plagued it?
Yes, it was mountainous and forested providing many places where they could hide and run to, and a smaller group could always outmaneuver and flee a large army.
But, that was why there were border towers! Or if the border towers were failing to work then launch the War Fortress! The bandits could not hide forever, could not run forever.
“But I suppose it has something to do with this ‘Faron Rek’ I keep hearing about”
Robert shook his head as he spurred his horse down off the rise. Even if there had not been an ambush it would not do to outline himself against the sky or mountains for too long. The villagers had impressed upon him many times that one never knew who was watching.
He had been to three villages so far. Each of them was small, quaint and beautiful. They each had their own special qualities. He had stayed the night in several, and taken away an idea that there were many good places out here in Destria. Good places filled with good people who were trying to deal with bad situations.
How could his parents, the nobility be so blind?
He kept coming back to that one thought.
How could there be so many bandits and the army not do anything about it?
True, the bandits hid when the armies passed by.
Then keep the armies marching! If the bandits are always hiding then they will not be attacking caravans and towns, plundering and pillaging the homes of the villagers.
They wouldn’t be killing Destria slowly but surely.
His hands tightened on the reins, the leather creaking. The sun shone down through leaves overhead, a pattern of spots and blemishes on the cool brown soil and green of ferns. To either side of the road nature was beautiful and wild, at one with itself, at peace. Yes. things died, yes, there were predators and prey, but one type of animal did not consume others of its kind because it didn’t want to bother hunting.
Infections were not allowed to survive, and the sick and the weak were culled from the herd by others. Those that brought in diseases were not allowed to stay around.
Nature knew how to deal with the outliers, those that did not contribute.
Why did humanity have so much trouble with it then?
Why could humanity not seem to do what it needed to survive?
How come his parents, the dukes, anyone and everyone, could ignore the problems or just pretend that there was no way to solve them?
That would change, he vowed. Here in sight of nature he would vow to fix it, to make humanity more like nature, to cut out the weeds and fix Destria.
Stopping his horse he drew his sword to do just that.
He was getting down when he heard the clip-clop of hooves on stones coming up the road towards him.
Curious and wary he finished dismounting and led his horse into the woods.
Looping the reins around a branch he snuck back and crouched in the undergrowth to see who was approaching.
A horse came into view. A man sat atop it, sword laid across his shins. He had a hard and cruel look about him, his features set in a scowl. Dressed in boiled leather and a hodge-podge of mismatched clothing, once finery now dirty and torn, Robert pegged him as a bandit.
After a moment’s inspection he had to amend his description. The man was not only a bandit but perhaps also a slaver.
A young man stumbled along after the horse, rope binding his hands together. Another rope ran around his neck and to the back of the man’s saddle.
The captive was struggling to keep up, each step the horse took requiring another three lurches of his own. He was not wearing shoes, or if he had been they were worn away. His feet looked to be a bloody mess, he looked dead tired, and parched.
Robert flew into a rage at first, but then was flooded with a sudden cold fear. The bandit had turned allowing him to see the loaded crossbow that the man carried. If he went out he’d be shot for sure.
So, he couldn’t rush out to save the captive.
Which meant that something else was required.
This was the first time Robert had ever been in a real fight, the first time he had ever actually been directly in danger.
And that was fine. He didn’t care about getting hurt himself.
But someone else was relying on his success? What if he failed them?
His hands were shaking, he felt too cold and too hot, he was shivering. Sounds seemed to be coming from a ways away and he felt like everything was sharp and clear and at the same time fuzzy.
He had never experienced anything like it before, and he never wanted to again. Fear, adrenaline, rage, all surging mixing within him.
It was almost impossible to enter the State like this, but he forced himself to do so, teetering on the edge of falling out of it.
But he would not. Not right now. He needed to stay in it to Sketch.
Retreating back a ways so that he could run ahead without risking them hearing him he thought about what he could do.
He needed to disable the man as a certainty. He couldn’t risk a chance that he would turn and hrt the captive.
At the same time, he couldn’t risk hurting the captive either. And he would like to try and save the horse so that he and the captive could both ride.
It was going to need to be Fire then. Nothing else would solve all the conditions.
He would need to aim it perfectly, and then run to cut the rope before the horse bolted. He didn’t want to save the captive from being captured only to hang him by accident.
So…yes. He could do it if he had his sword ready and was ready to run the moment he finished.
Since he didn’t trust himself to strike true with his left hand, strike hard enough and well enough to cut the rope the first try then he would need to use that to Sketch.
Silently thanking Master Turendar for forcing him to do so he dropped down behind the brush again and started Sketching.
He spun his fingers through the intricate Sigil of Fire. It was actually less complicated than the Sigil of Air but he had practiced it less and it required a lot more effort to get even the smallest results.
And he was not trying to get a small result.
The horse was nearing as he drew the second last arc. Then he waited until the man was right before him.
His breath was coming increasingly fast and he could hear the beat of his blood in his ears like drums beating, too loud, too fast, too close. It was all down to his moment, and if he failed…
What if he wasn’t fast enough? What if he missed or the horse darted away and he cut the wrong thing? What if the bandit survived and shot the captive?
He couldn’t fail now. Not now.
The man was before him now. Almost past. He couldn’t put it off any longer. He needed to act now!
He finished the last sweep and pushed outward with his hand. The Sigil dissolved in a roaring torrent of flame that swept the man off the horse’s back and flung him into the woods, smoking and charred. Even as the horse reared and began to lunge forwards Robert dashed from his hiding place, his sword sweeping down.
As the horse began to leap ahead he sliced the captive free with his sword and grabbed onto the rope with his left hand. The horse lurched, and he was pulled from his feet, skidding a few feet before he managed to get his feet back under him.
Pulling against the horse it slowed for a moment, long enough that he could let go without being flung forwards and seriously hurting himself.
He still tumbled and smacked his knee pretty badly, but it was not as bad as it could have been.
The horse stopped about sixty more feet down the road, but Robert was busy turning back to the captive.
It took him a moment to locate the man, trying to scramble through the bushes, seemingly mad with fear.
“Hey, wait up!”
Robert stood and began to move after the man, but had to stop instead.
The drum beats of his heart had faded and things were returning to normal, his heightened senses fleeing, and it just left him feeling…drained.
“Wait! Wait, I’m here to help!”
He forced himself to start moving again and jogged towards the captive who had finally stopped.
“Its ok, don’t worry. I killed the bandit, and you’ll be safe now. Want me to cut the bonds for you?”
The man took a few steps out onto the road, wincing at the pain in his feet now that he had time to think.
“You…you threw Fire”
“Yes, I did. It Sketched, as I am a Sketcher”
“That means you’re a noble!”
“Ah…yes. I suppose I am”
He hadn’t meant to tell anyone, especially not someone he didn’t know. Trying to fix the slip he continued on before the captive could speak.
“But I’d rather you keep that a secret for the moment. I would not like to be targeted by those who wanted to steal from me or hold me hostage anymore than the next man. But, I can see you’re hurt. How can I help? What can I do? And do you need any food?”
But as Robert stepped closer, the man stepped away again.
“You’re a noble. Why don’t you do something about the bandits? I was trapped, dragged behind that horse for a week. He barely fed me. He-he-he”
The man broke. His hands flew to his face and he collapsed to the ground sobbing.
“They, they, they killed them! They killed them all! They they were there and then we ran and then the fire and we ran but we didn’t and I saw them, and then oh god! Why me? Why us? Why why why did this happen! Its its too much its too much I can’t, I can’t I can’t, why? Why? What did we do to deserve this? What did we do to deserve the bandits, why can’t you stupid damned nobles do anything? Why can’t you just do something about them, why can’t you root them out or burn their homes, or something? Protect us if you can’t find them, set guards on villages build walls, escort caravans, something”
He pulled his hands down to point at Robert as his voice rose to a scream.
“Anything! Just do something to stop them from being killed!”
His arm quivered as he glared at the prince, rage and despair written in equal parts on his face. Tears continued to stream down his cheeks, his rag of a shirt wet from the flow.
“Why? Why don’t you do something?”
He began to sob again, deep, wrenching sobs.
And Robert didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to console someone who had lost everything.
Rens might. Branwen or Rackam maybe. But not him. Not him, not Madison, not his parents, not anyone he knew, not any noble.
Because none of them had really suffered loss. The last time he had talked to someone who was sobbing it had been Marie. And she had been crying because the person she loved didn’t love her back.
Her loss was nowhere near what this poor man had suffered. Nothing any of the had known was, and nothing ever would be.
He sheathed his sword and crouched down next to the man.
“I am sorry for what you have had to go through. And I swear that as soon as I return home I shall change things. I’ll make sure that the armies are mobilized, and that if they don’t clear out the bandits that they at least provide protection. I’ll see about building walls around every town, village, and hamlet to keep it safe, provide guards, or weapons and training, something to keep this land safe from those who plague it. I swear on the graves of my grandparents, on my line, and on my Sigilian that I shall do whatever is in my power to help you, and all people of Destria”
The man looked up. There was not hope in his eyes, but maybe something akin to it.
“I am sorry that it will come too late to help you, but there are others who can be protected from the same fate. And you still have a life to live. Now, can I cut your bonds? Then I’ll bring my horse over and I’ll get you some food”
The man nodded.
After cutting the bonds Robert led his horse over. Going through the saddlebags he found the plainest and stalest bread he could find.
Histories and books had taught him that much at least. When on an empty stomach, eat and drink but sparingly, and then the least rich food possible.
He placed the food on a handkerchief then went to get the other horse.
By the time he brought it back the man seemed to have composed himself.
Looking at him now Robert could see that he was barely a man. Just a youth, maybe sixteen.
And, he looked just like his old friend Matios. That a man he met by chance, then freed, should look so like his second-oldest friend was a bizarre coincidence indeed.
“I’m Marlan, but I’ve been going by Soldier”
He extended his hand. Instead of taking it the captive looked at it suspiciously, then to the food.
“I can’t pay for it, if thats what you want”
“What? No! Its yours, eat it”
“The nobles never give anyone anything for free”
“Well, I am. Eat it, it’ll be fine, I’m not trying to take anything from you or have you owe me”
“No, thats true. If you wanted something you’d just steal it with one hand while giving me a pat on the back with other. Bloody nobles”
He took the bread and waterskin and began to tear into it. While he talked, he spoke.
“M’names Brethan. Last name won’t matter to you ‘m sure”
He paused to swallow the bite and stuff his mouth again. This time he finished it and washed it down before speaking.
“They came down on us a week ago. Out of the forest, middle of the night. As many of us as could ran. I don’t think anyone escaped. I had my little brother in my arms, was with my ma and sister”
He began to choke up again, but pushed on.
“We were run down and caught. I don’t know where they took my ma and sis. But they…they took him and I saw, I saw”
He began to cry again. Robert took the waterski and bread, gently placed them on the handkerchief and patted the man on the back. As he kept crying he eventually sat down beside and pulled him into a hug. It seemed the right thing to do.
Robert didn’t say anything, and Brethan just kept crying.


Rens took a step backwards and planted his feet.
It was muddy, everyone was slipping, and the bandit was not giving him any room.
He brought his shield up to deflect the blow, and with a crash the man’s axe went wide.
Too slow his sword came around in a counterstrike; the man had already recovered and pulled back enough. Blocking the sword with his axe haft the bandit snarled.
He was a big man, broad, tall, and with arms like the proverbial tree trunks. A scar sealed one eye, and should have given Rens an advantage. But the mud and his heavy armour conspired with a surprise ambush and the sudden ineptitude of his comrades.
Why they had decided to flounder through a muddy valley despite his warnings he would never know. And Natasi couldn’t be blamed; she had stayed behind at the camp.
So it was something else this time. And somehow the scouts had all managed to be killed before they could report anything.
So now they were surrounded by bandits that were coming out of the hills, leaping down to attack them. An arrow volley had taken out a lot of them and left the remainder with fewer allies than they needed to win the fight.
Rens had slowly been trying to get them all to gather in the middle, but for the moment it was no good.
He was too bogged down in his own fight to worry about the overall battle. Once he had a moment to breathe he would do his best to rally the others.
And why the bandits were even attacking was another question that needed to be answered.
They’d take too many losses fighting an armed and prepared band of soldiers, even if they did take them by surprise. And there was no profit in it.
Something was definitely going on in Destria, but he didn’t have time for that right now.
As his sword rebounded off the axe’s haft he decided it was time for some a desperate action.
Instead of letting it come up he smashed it back down. The bandit pushed back, but he kept his sword in the notch he had just cut. It became a contest of strength now. Whether the bandit could push him back faster than he could cut through the haft.
Sweat beading on his face beneath his helm he leaned into the blade, putting all his weight into it, knowing that the bandit was trying to do the same.
Even if he weakened the haft enough then it would be a success. Unless of course he lost his sword or let the distraction get him stabbed. That was the only problem with his helmet. It limited his peripherals, reduced his vision to what was in front of him.
But raising the visor would be worse. He needed the protection, needed the layer of separation from the battle so that he could think with that much less distraction. And he needed to not be vulnerable. to being spat at or other tricks.
As the bandit’s face came closer and closer, the two leaning more heavily into their weapons now Rens suddenly pulled back.
As the bandit staggered forwards, the counterbalance gone, Rens snapped his shield up and over.
It was a hard move with something so large and unwieldy, but this time it worked.
There was a satisfying clank as the shield connected with the man’s unprotected head.
Yet another reason to wear a helmet.
Yanking his sword free from the unconcious or dead man’s axe Rens spun to find his next opponent.
Rule one of battle: Always keep your opponents guessing. If that means deceiving yourself, or changing your plans at the last minute, then so be it. The less you know the less they’ll be able to predict your motions. It was that simple.
He spotted another bandit locked in combat with his second, Krendor.
And beyond those two, another bandit looking for someone to fight.
Well, he had his plans.
With a roar he charged towards the second bandit, cutting close by the first.
As the man turned to cut at Rens Krendor took advantage of it, his blade flying high in the air to dent the man’s helm. As the bandit fell senseless Krendor spun to find another, barely sparing Rens a nod.
The two knew that there were more important things in battle than empty pleasantries and things like thanks. Like surviving.
Another thought flitted through his brain at that moment. Why was Krendor even along? He should have left the man in charge of the camp. And thinking back, he was fairly sure that he had. And then he passed him by, and the moment passed as well.
The second bandit turned and lifted her blade. The fact that it was a woman almost gave Rens a moment of pause. Not because he would not hurt a woman, but because female bandits were so rare. The always lecherous male bandits that predominated meant that only a woman who was stronger, faster, or craftier, than all the others there would survive.
Which meant that any female bandit would be especially dangerous.
But she still needed to be killed, and better he face her than someone less experienced did.
His sword came down in an overhand chop, but at the last moment swerved to come down at an angle. If she fell for the feint he’d have a chance to slash at her hand.
She didn’t, her own sword angling to catch it. Instead of letting him lock the blade she also pulled it away, darting back a step or two as her other hand drew a main-gauche. She dropped into more of a duelists or fencers stance.
Neither style suited the other, his straightforwards and with long heavy strikes she could easily dodge or turn aside, hers with sharr short jabs that worked best with gaps in armour, something that Rens’ heavy plate lacked. It was going to be a longer fight unless either of them could find a way to settle things quickly.
He dropped into a crouch, not deigning to circle, instead making himself the center of hers.
While it would give her an advantage with the maneuvering he couldn’t afford to lose his footing in the mud.
If he slipped it’d all be over, and no amount of heavy plate or Sigil-warding amulets would help him then.
She drew her blades outwards, then darted in.
His shield turned aside her rapier as his sword came at her leg. The main-gauche caught it, slowing it enough so that she could leap over it.
As she did so her rapier rolled over his shield and into his chest plate.
Luckily it barely even scratched the metal before he slammed his shield into her chest.
The woman staggered backwards, seemingly stunned by the blow. Eager to end the fight Rens leapt forwards, sword leading once more, only to find that she was not stunned after all.
Her blade leapt out trying to foul in his legs, but he stabbed his sword into the ground and used it as a crutch. Managing to stay upright he swung the shield towards where her rapier should be coming in again, then grunted as her main-gauche found a gap that his stance had opened.
He pulled back, tearing his sword from the ground as she spun away, dagger red with his blood.
It was not a deep wound, but it would bleed. It would kill him slowly, if nothing else.
Grunting in frustration at his own overeagerness he took a wary step forwards. She danced back too, maintaining the distance between them.
“Enjoying the fight sir knight?”
The words were flippant but the tone was not. Rens could tell that the bandit could put venom and iron into her tone. She was a woman used to having her questions answered and orders obeyed. The leader perhaps? Or a second at the very least.
“Nobody likes it when they are ambushed”
“Well, I am sorry for raining on your parade then. Of course, our rain was decidedly more deadly than the usual stuff. Or does the normal stuff make you rust in all that steel?”
She leapt in again, blades flashing. Sword to the left, shield across in front of his body, then out to the left, trade with the sword as the sword catches the dagger again. Rapier will come up so shield goes down, let it past, sword back to the left, cut at her arm.
The motions flew by, a dance of death both choreographed and performed by the combatants from second to second.
Rens knew that some thought of battle that way. He didn’t.
He thought of it as a hell all its own, bloody, smelly, sweaty, terrifying and louder than it needed to be. There was nothing in it that redeemed it, no rush that he couldn’t get from rock climbing or making love, no chance for anything but death.
Even the glory won in battle was not for him, stained as it was with the blood of others.
Now, Rens wasn’t a pacifist. But he didn’t believe in taking glory from the death of another. It was their choice to go into battle, so he did not take the opinion that it was to honour them. It was because battle was too dirty to have anything like glory in it.
It was just death, death, and more death.
The exchange finished the woman stepped back. He had nicked her arm, and she had not landed another hit on him.
While it was not equivalent to the stab it was better than nothing.
The two paused for a moment. The fighting had carried them more towards the rest of the fight, or perhaps the fight had come to them. Either way, there were now others around them. It would require paying more attention to their surroundings and less to each other, which could be fatal.
This time when the woman began to circle Rens did too. If he could stop when she was up by one of his men then he would have the advantage. Likely she would try the same as well.
Which just meant that he needed to be better at it than her.
The bandit feinted for his left, and Rens brought his shield up.
As she moved to take advantage he slammed it backwards point first into the back of another bandit.
As the man collapsed in agony, spine possibly broken Rens’ knight leapt out to join him. Sparing him a glance Rens spoke.
“No Jom. Go fight someone else. You’ll get yourself killed against her”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about! I can take her!”
The man, still young, just promoted to the guard moved to take a step forwards.
“This is an order! You will engage another bandit and leave this one to me!”
The man still strained to attack the woman.
“Captain” his voice was a growl, and the title was given begrudgingly “I said I can take her. You can’t organize a battle, and you clearly can’t fight one, so leave me to it”
“Guard Jom!”
Rens’ bellow cut through the sounds of battle, and for a moment things froze.
“Did you not hear me? I gave you an order! Now get back there before you get yourself killed!”
Jom looked like he was going to resist, then suddenly stood up straight and turned to look at Rens.
“Captain!” His eyes held a strange light and his voice was sorrowful “What have I done? My apologies Captain! My apologies!”
“Explain later boy, get back to the fight!”
He threw himself forwards, shield outstretched to catch the blow aimed for Jom’s back. Evidently the woman had grown tired of waiting and had decided to take advantage of the distraction.
That was not going to be allowed.
As Jom charged back into the ring Rens brought his sword up and across. Not expecting him to be able to recover so soon after lunging her dagger was out of position and so was knocked flying.
He wouldn’t give her time to draw another one.
With a rain blows from both sword and shield he chased the woman back across the battlefield. Never letting up for an instant he kept with her, denying her a chance to escape or lose him. Each time she went for a dagger he attacked again, landing three hits on her before she stopped trying.
Soon they were both panting from the exertion. Rens usually would not have been but the wound was taking more of a toll than expected.
“Surrender! Give the order for everyone to surrender and I’ll spare you all long enough for you to get fair trials”
“The punishment for banditry is hanging you fool! Do you think anyone’d give up a chance at life here to go die later? No!”
She lunged at him again and he caught her blade on his own. With a twist he caught their hilts together. It was not the same as a blade lock, but it would give him the advantage he had desired.
Rens also knew that others would have offered another chance at surrender.
He figured that if they wanted to surrender they could still take him up on his earlier offer. Reminding them only wasted time and breath.
She twisted and turned, tried to break the lock, but he kept with her, kept pressing down. Everytime she tried something, he forced their blades closer to her head.
As she tried one more time and the blades dropped to just above her head she turned to look into his implacable metal mask. Her eyes went wide, and he knew that she had realized her death.
Others would have taken the moment to gloat. He took the moment to slam the top of his shield into her stomach.
As the went out of her and her arm relaxed for a brief moment he slammed his blade down.
A moment later he turned, pulling his blade free. Her sword still dangled from his own by the crosspiece, and he took a moment to knock it loose. He could not have it hindering him in the rest of the fight.
At the same time, he could not let himself waste anymore time on the woman and their fight.
He readied his blade and stepped back into the fray.
He had a battle to win.


Laerian smiled as he paraded across the small makeshift stage.
The crowd was eating up his every move and they had not figured out any of his tricks.
It was a good day so far.
“And so ladies and gentlemen, do you follow me still? That is good because there is yet another trick coming. I apologize that so many of my tricks have to do with these scarves, but I really enjoy them. So, back to the trick! Now, I showed you all that my scarf could grow and grow and grow, correct? Well, how about shrinking it down? Now, it is still quite long” and it was; he had let them pull on the end so much that it covered half the stage “But there must be some way to shrink it down. How about I wind it around my arm?”
He began to, slowly at first, wrap the scarf back around his arm like fishing twine. After a few coils he ‘accidentally’ looped it over his other arm.
Within a few more twists and turns he had not only managed to tie his arms together, but his legs were now caught up as well.
And the crowd was loving it, roaring with laughter.
Laerian maintained his rather worried look as he struggled to free himself. With a crowd like this in a big city he knew that he could pull off the comedy acts, perhaps the helpless magician act as well. With a noble he would never try something so simple, but for those who didn’t have pretensions he didn’t need to try and be fancy.
He could just act.
“Ah, no, I’m serious guys, I’m stuck. Could I get some help up here?”
He quickly spotted a young couple and nodded at them.
“You two, can you help me? Just, climb those stairs, careful, and ok, come on over”
As they kicked their way through the scarves he slowly drew the scarves in around their feet, just loose enough that they’d think they had picked them up by walking through.
“Now, one of you on either side maybe? Each work on an arm?”
As the two very good natured teenagers went to work unwinding him he winked at the crowd.
“Ah, thats better!”
Stretching his arms he flung them around a bit, the scarf falling in loops and spirals from his hands.
“Now, if you wouldn’t mind helping with my legs? I can never quite figure them out”
As they crouched down he continued to twirl the scarves above them for another long moment. The crowd knew that something was going to happen, and maybe the helpers suspected it, but nobody knew what.
And that suspension, that moment before the reveal was what Laerian wanted to prolong.
Another second…and then he snapped his arms out straight.
“Watch out!”
Looking up at him the two didn’t quite stand, but it worked well enough.
The scarves fell in a helix about their bodies, snugging tight as he stepped backwards out of the pile of suddenly loose wrappings.
“And, oh, well. Huh. Now you both are stuck all wrapped up. That won’t do. I’m going to have to do something to fix that, or else we’ll all be here until the cows come home”
He scratched his head in mock puzzlement as the crowd began to get tired of the delay.
He walked around them, plucking at the scarves and shrugging, then moving to the other and doing the same. And in his fumblings he managed to drag the two to opposite ends of the stage and then loop enough scarf around support beams that they couldn’t move back together.
He kept it up until the crowd began to jeer and boo.
“Its not my fault they got themselves tangled! Nor is it really my fault that I can’t untangle them!”
“Get off the stage incompetent!”
“Let the two go!”
Just as one man began to climb the stage drawing a dagger to cut the two free Laerian held up his hand for silence.
“Ok, ok, I’m sorry. You want me to let them go, and I want me to let them go. And we still need to wrap these scarves back down into little tiny scarves that can fit in my sleeve.
“So, why don’t we solve all these problems at once?”
Now, this part of the show was the same between both nobles and anyone else. He sometimes had trouble finding a couple among the nobles, so sometimes it was only one, always someone who had been making their interest in him known.
Because otherwise the next bit didn’t work.
“So, wait, I know how to solve this. Stand back everyone!”
As the crowd took an obliging step backwards and even the angry man went back down the stairs Laerian turned to the couple.
“Now, these scarves are the scarves of a gleeman, or a traveling bard. And they always have been. Back before me they were owned by a great magician named Zeppeli, and before that by the one who trained him, a bard called Bathros, and back all the way to the great minstrel himself Durel!
“And as such, these scarves have always heard tales and stories about love, true love, and pure romance. Now, they’ll likely stop keeping the two of you apart if your love is pure, for who are they to deny true love?”
Looking from one to the other he approached the girl first.
“Now, Miss…?”
“Miss Angeline. See that man over there also all tied up? Whats his name?”
“Ok. And who is he? How do you two know each other?”
“He comes into my father’s bakery every day to get food for his family. At first I was too shy to talk to him but I thought he was handsome and so when he one day asked me-”
Laerian raised a hand as he began to shuffle over to Steffan. He had to hunch down to look the two in the face, and he imagined that he looked a rather comical figure.
“So you work at a bakery and he buys food there? For his family?”
Steffan seemed to be taking this much less well than Angeline. She had at least accepted it and decided to play along, but he was still struggling against the scarf.
“Steffan, you’re still struggling. You don’t trust the scarves to let you go? Is your love not pure?”
“Its not that its that she’s tied up! Let her go and stop with the charade. Its not funny anyways!”
“Why do you want me to let her go?”
“Because its not right for you to tie her up!”
“But, would it be ok if I had tied up someone else instead? And you say that you yourself are only trying to get free so that you can help her get free. Unless I misunderstood”
The boy stopped for a moment at that. It took him a while before he decided that “No. If you tied up anyone it’d be wrong”
“So then it isn’t worse that I tied her up than if I had tied up someone else?”
Realizing that he might be doing what Laerian he wanted he tried to backtrack.
“No, I mean, but-Yes it is, but not for why you’re saying!”
“So then you don’t love her?”
Shushing any more words he turned to the crowd, his face a mask of sorrow.
“But, if he doesn’t love her then how are they ever to be free? I know that I cannot untie these knots, and maybe even a blade will not cut through them without hurting the two. Whatever will we do if there is no love?”
He winked at Steffan as he hurried over to Angeline.
“Steffan, be quiet for a moment. I need to talk to Angeline”
Angeline looked sad, and there were the beginnings of tears in her eyes.
“Angeline…I’m sorry, but it looks like he doesn’t love you”
Steffan tried to interrupt, but Laerian held out one hand and talked over him.
“I really am sorry, for I can see that you love him, do you not?”
She nodded, and opened her mouth to speak when Steffan tried to speak again.
“But, you didn’t let me-”
“Quiet man! Good gods, will you not give the fair lady a moment to talk!”
As he whirled to face Steffan, advancing again he winked one more time to the boy. This time he exaggerated it as much as possible to make sure that he saw. As he stopped and leaned down to stare into Steffan’s eyes he saw understanding.
“Now, will you be quiet long enough to give Angeline a moment to digest this?”
“No! I won’t you charlatan and li-”
Laerian wrapped a piece of scarf around Steffans head, covering his mouth. It wasn’t enough to block the sound, and it was only held in place by Steffan biting down, but it would serve if Steffan played along like he thought he would.
“Now, that’ll take a few moments to get off, long enough for me to finish asking Angeline my questions. When she’s answered you’re free to interrupt me all you like”
Another wink had Steffan struggling and making a fantastic show of removing the scarf that he could drop at any time.
“So, Angeline as I was saying before we were interrupted, you do love him, even though he seems not to love you” He could feel Steffan’s eyes on him, and knew that the boy would not tolerate much more of this.
“But is your love pure and true? Perhaps if you love him enough the scarf might release you, even if it won’t release him”
“I do! I love him, I love him and I wanted to, want to marry him and I thought that he wanted to marry me to and we were going to have a life together!”
Laerian smiled sadly and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. His other hand waved behind his back in a small sign to wait.
“That sounds like true love to me. Perhaps the scarf will release you!”
He took a step backwards and tugged on it a bit, but nothing happened.
“Oh, alas! It seems that only true love that is returned by another can convince the scarves to drop! Woe betide us that-”
“Quiet magician! You never let me finish”
Laerian spun, astonishment on his face at Steffan’s words.
“But, the scarf! It should have taken you much longer! Unless…Oh, but that is part of the same scarf that will release you if your love is pure!”
“Shut up”
The crowd laughed at that.
“Angeline, don’t listen to this man! I do love you and I always have! When I first saw you I thought you were the most beautiful person I had ever seen, and when I finally worked up the courage to talk to you it was the best day when you responded! Every moment that we have spent together has been better than the last, and I love you, I truly do! I want to spend our lives together, I want to be married, and I want to be together forever!”
The crowd burst into applause at Steffan’s words and Laerian wiped a tear from his eye.
“So then it is true love! If it is true love, then let the scarves not stop them from being together! Perhaps now…?”
He stepped backwards out of the way and gave the scarves a tug. And to the amazement of everyone they began to unravel. As the two spun faster and faster they got closer and closer together, the scarves shrinking down into nothing as they came.
And then the scarves pulled the other way and the two came a halt, Angeline falling into Steffan’s arms.
By a surprising quirk of fate, Or perhaps, Laerian thought with a smile, Its more of how the show spins fate to its own purposes, their faces ended up mere inches away, and after a second of silence Steffan leaned in for a kiss.
As the crowd erupted into cheers Laerian hopped down from the stage and put out the three hats he used to collect the coins.
“Why don’t we give some money to the two to help them on their way? I am sure that the two will need some help going ahead in their lives, and what better way than to give them some money to start?”
The crowd tossed a fair bit of money into the hats. If he had been keeping it from himself it’d been enough to pay for room and board for quite a while.
But for the couple, if they did get married, it would not be much. Hopefully it could help their families even if they didn’t. He’d split what he gave them in half, give half to each.
As the crowd dispersed he hopped back up onto the stage and extended a hand to stop the two.
“Don’t go anywhere yet. Both of you were fantastic. You could have real futures in acting. Angeline, did you know that it was all part of the show? If not, I am so very sorry”
“No, I did. I figured it out when you wouldn’t let him finish his sentences, like you were afraid of him ruining something”
“And Steffan, you didn’t figure it out until I basically told you”
“No. I knew. I just wasn’t going to let you get away with it”
The boy’s eyes narrowed as he began to take a step forwards, but Angeline pulled him back.
“Steffan, don’t. He wanted to make a good show, and neither of us was hurt or saddened. We all need to eat, and this is how he gets his food”
“That is true Angeline, and a very mature view. However, I can do another show tomorrow in another part of town. In that way I can make enough for day to day. I usually only need enough for one night at an inn, however I have a friend with me and we’re going to be traveling soon. So, I’m going to take about a quarter of what I collected, and give the rest to you two. I wish I could give almost all of it to you, but its better than nothing”
The two looked at each other in surprise and then Angeline jumped forwards to pump his hand up and down.
“Thank you! Thank you so much! You’re an amazing person and I can’t believe you’re going to do this for us!”
“Of course. I roped you into this show without really asking you, so the least I can do is pay you back for it. Here, lets see how much we got”
He poured the three hats into one and quickly counted it out.
“So, its the equivalent of six gold marks. Or close to it”
There was a pause while Steffan pulled the pile towards himself and recounted before anyone spoke again.
“Magician, I apologize. I misjudged you, and I would like to say I’m sorry for calling you all those names and trying to ruin your show”
“Ah, Steffan, don’t be, and call me Laerian. I’ve been doing shows for long enough that I can deal easily enough with someone trying to derail it, and you just made it better in the end. It was probably what you did, not my whirling scarves, growing scarves, card tricks and other tricks that made them give so generously. Everyone, even the biggest cynic, deep down loves a good love story. Which was what you two gave them! So, the gold, thats entirely you, and your earnings for the day. I suggest that you each hang onto half until you get married. That way if one of you loses it the other half will still be there, and if something should happen, your parents should say no for some reason, then neither one of you is left with nothing”
To take the sting from his rather pessimistic words he added “I doubt that’ll happen, but you never know, and I’d hate for something unexpected to happen and leave one or both you regretting that the other didn’t have any of the money”
By turning it back so that it was about the other losing out, not losing out themselves he was sure that they would accept the idea.
And they did.
He escorted the two back to their homes, making sure that both got home safe with their pockets full before turning back towards the inn.
Tonight was their last night in the city.
Tomorrow the ship that Tomas had booked passage on sailed. They had learned as much as they could which Tomas had jotted down in little notebooks, and they were ready to go.
Which meant that Laerian could no longer avoid the past, no longer avoid his memories and demons. His happy times were done, and it was time to fight once more.
He fingered the gloves tucked into his belt.
Perhaps…perhaps he would not need them. Perhaps he would, likely he would, but he hoped beyond hope that for once, just once, things could be easily and go according to plan.
He shook his head as he stepped into the common room.
No, he knew better than that. Nothing ever went to plan. He’d better make sure that his clothes were all happy with him, because pretty soon they were going to be waking up hungry again.

Hiros stepped out the door of the tower and onto the dock.
The sounds of Faron Rek bore down on him, crashing like a wave. The silence of the inside of the tower compared to this place outside…
Faron Rek was a hell.
The docks though, were pleasant enough. So many pirates put in here every week that they needed to be kept in good condition. The floors did not creak, it did not smell all that bad, and everything was relatively clean.
The noise though never stopped, the combination of the bellows of rage, the merchants hawking their stolen goods, and the sounds of people being gutted.
It all made a cacophony. Deeper in it got quieter, but that was almost worse. Because in those darker parts of Faron Rek, where it was silent, it was because it didn’t do to draw overmuch attention to yourself.
In places like those being loud meant death.
Hiros would normally have shivered at the thought, but he kept himself steady this time. He could not afford to be nervous, not right now. Or, at least, could not afford to let it show.
The former bandit turned to face the taller of the two assassins. he had donned his battle-gear, a sinister looking facemask, leather armour, and his twin swords.
“Is the Link completed?”
“Yes, I told you already. We also tested it already”
“And you’ll have time to Sketch before the fight starts? Both on you and on your opponent”
“If not then I’ll make time. I know how to delay people long enough to activate the links. Its having the guards and the king all drink the components beforehand that I’m worried about being able to get done”
“That is why I am doing it”
The shorter of the assassins, the one Hiros’ height, stepped forwards.
“You’re going to go with your bodyguard here, and do what needs to be done to rally you support. I am going to go prepare things for the fight. As we discussed”
“Of course. Umm…”
Hiros looked up at the tower and the captain standing guard in the entrance. Shadows bled from his wounds, filling the interior of the tower with that dim bleak light that he had almost grown used to during the trip.
A crossbow rested in his hands.
“Is he just going to stay there the entire time? With the door open and everything?”
“Yes. Nobody would be foolish enough to take on one of the Shadowed, and if they are, then they shall learn their lessons. This man was a formidable fighter even before he was Shadowed; it took the two of us some time to kill him”
And from the assassins that was the highest praise that anyone could receive. It meant both that they had not been able to catch him by surprise, and that the man was skilled enough to delay their killing strike. And if the two of them had taken some time to kill him? Well, that meant that he could take on the both of them, at least for a few passes, and somehow survive. At least they hadn’t said that he had wounded them; that would have been the final straw for Hiros.
“So…shall we get going then?”
Unable to delay any longer Hiros straightened his shoulders and began to strut forwards. Here it was all about appearances, and he could afford to look cocky with the assassin at his shoulder.
He was actually glad of the man’s presence now. It would stop all but the most insane of muggers from trying their luck with him, and the most insane would die to his blades before they could do anything.
Hiros shrugged his shoulders at the uncomfortable weight of twin blades sitting there. For the plan to work he needed to be equipped similarly to the other man, the shorter one, but it still was not comfortable. He was not at all used to it and longed for his crossbow.
But everyone made concessions on the path to glory, even if it was not their choice to take that path.
Especially then.
Faron Rek grew dirtier and fouler the deeper into it he went. The shouts of dockworkers and angry pirates claiming they were cheated became the shouts of drunkards and angry gamblers claiming they were being cheated.
More than once Hiros had to stop as a fight spilled out into the street. While the assassins either broke it up, or they waited for one to get up and the other to go still Hiros surveyed the city.
Not much had changed since he was last here. This, the outer city, was still filthy, in a bad state of disrepair, and entirely without order. Buildings still looked to be thrown up wherever the builder could protect it, sometimes cutting of streets or building on stop of, or in front of, another building.
Filth was piled as high as it could be without toppling, mostly because once it got too high it did topple, and then formed the road.
The road itself squished beneath his feet as anything made of rotting refuse will. Each step released a dozen new fumes that assaulted his nostrils, not that they were not besieged enough already.
He really wished that he had had time to procure a set of noseplugs, or a filter, but the assassins had not given him the chance. Perhaps once he was king he could send for some.
That thought still chilled him. As they waited for the latest fight to break up he ran his hand over his newly shaved scalp, feeling the designs and patterns that the two had cut into it. Wincing when he found a tender spot he pulled his hand back down.
His hair had fallen away, and then bits of his skin had as well as they had cut and scarred patterns and designs, the symbols of a famous warrior clan from the far east.
He didn’t look the part, but then again, nobody in Faron Rek looked like what they claimed to be.
The point was that if he claimed that he was from the clan then he would have to be strong enough to back up the claim. His actual bloodline or training became irrelevant, and it was all about whether he was brave or stupid enough to go through with the deception.
Looking tough here was all that mattered it seemed. Or, would be all that mattered for him. The assassins would do all the real work.
As the fight cleared up Hiros looked ahead to the great cleft.
It was tall, and narrow, big enough only for two carts abreast, not that anyone actually used carts on this island.
And it would be protected by a gate anyways so that you couldn’t use carts. It was go through on foot, one by one, or not at all.
This was the greatest stronghold in all of the Torin islands. Not the Destrian War Fortress, not the Lomwar Durrenvault, not anything for any military or national endeavour.
No, it was Faron Rek proper, the Inner City. The wall was made of stone, reinforced with metal plates every couple of feet, and metal beams holding it all in place. The stones had been placed around those, making a wall that was dozens of feet thick.
Passage through it took half an hour because the passages themselves twisted and turned so often.
The main passage went through, but there were dozens of offshoots. These offshoots went only to dead ends and traps.
Above each of these passages was another passage. These upper passages were only accessible from the far side, and the floors were filled with murder holes so that the defenders could rain death down on any invaders.
Scaling the wall was difficult as the pirates had dug a moat around it. So, once they crossed the moat they would have to try and climb the always slick and algae covered wall while suffering arrow fire and dropped rocks from the battlements above.
And even if they got inside they would still have to fight their way through the network of caves before reaching the Inner City proper.
All this contributed to the fact that Faron Rek had never truly been stormed.
Yes, it had been assaulted, but the last time that Destria and the Free Lords of Rin had mustered their armies to attack it the tolls had been too high, and they’d decided to leave it alone.
Which worked just fine for every criminal, bandit, pirate, and ne’erdowell out there. It meant that they had a wonderful base of operations from which to commit their illicit activities.
When they arrived at the main tunnel there were no guards.
Instead there were guides. Without one you’d wander through the passages for days, lost, confused, and without knowing which way to go. If you didn’t want to pay for one then you could take it on your own and risk the outcome, or you could try and follow along with another guide.
Both would likely end up with you being dead.
The assassins had told Hiros to ignore the guides and walk straight in.
“‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello mate”
One, a swaggering man dressed in the garb of a sailor stepped up to Hiros.
“You lookin’ to be goin’ through then? You wantin’ to go in and get to tha Inner City?”
He had a thick accent and stank of alcohol and drugs. Hiros grinned, sure his expression was a bit sickly.
“Of course. I’m assuming you’re going to be offering your services?”
“Of course, of course of course! How about five gold marks to guide you and your pal in, no pro’lem at all”
“How about you step aside before ‘my pal’ breaks your body, and we go in, free of charge?”
Not only did the guides like to charge, but they didn’t like to let people go in without taking some kind of a toll. The toll either came in your coin, your blood, or the threat of theirs.
It seemed that this time the threat of theirs would do for the man stepped aside, and no others challenged the pair.
Once inside the echoey and dark passage Hiros let the assassin take the lead. He knew where he was going, and would be able to deal with anyone they ran into. Hiros just needed to walk and stay quiet, simple as that.
It would be a long walk.


Robert and Brethan rode into town together. Brethan had somewhat recovered, enough at least for them to get to the town.
It was larger than the others he had been in recently, and better equipped to deal with the bandits. It had the walls, there was a single antiquated catapult, and the people all had some manner of weapon easily at hand.
Perhaps this was what was needed to stop them from attacking so rampantly; make every town, every village like this, help them protect themselves.
Tying their horses up outside the first inn they found, Robert entered, looking for a room to stay the night.
At least one night. But likely longer. He wanted to get Brethan settled in somewhere before he went on.
The inn was a nice enough building. A fire burned in a large hearth and there were a few people eating at tables around the walls.
After a few moments of negotiation he secured two rooms side by side, then returned to Brethan.
“Hard to get the two rooms together. Apparently its more full than its been in a while”
Brethan nodded as Robert made sure that a stableboy had taken their horses around.
“Come, lets get something to eat, and then get some sleep. We’ll figure out whats next in the morning”

Robert sat up, unsure what had awoken him.
It wasn’t daylight; he knew he hadn’t been asleep for long enough. It was still the middle of the night, so its not like there was any light coming in from the window.
He rubbed his eyes and looked around at the long shadows.
Long shadows?
It should be dark, there should not have been any shadows.
He rolled out of bed and pulled his pants on as he looked around.
There, the window. He grabbed the top of his uniform as he walked over and pulled the curtains aside.
Red light. Flickering shadows. A thick cloud of smoke.
And now that he was closer he could hear the sounds of alarm.
Why were the people not responding? Why had the alarm bell not been rung?
He spun around, his shirt unbuttoned as he ran for the door.
Halfway there he remembered, and turned to grab his sword.
He’d need it to defend himself long enough to put out the flames.
Turning back to the door he saw the handle turn. Someone had finally come to wake him, good. At least people were responding.
The door swung open and two men in dark clothes with naked swords stared at him in surprise.
Robert stared back for the moment it took him to realize that they weren’t there to wake him up.
“Bandits! Bandits in the halls! Awake, awake!”
His voice rang through the quiet of the inn as he drew his sword and lunged at the first.
By then they had recovered, and their swords were up.
His blade crashed down on the first one. His lunge defeated Robert scuttled backwards, falling into a fencer’s stance. The two stepped into the room, trying to spread out to flank him.
Robert wouldn’t afford them the time.
Lunging forwards he cut at the one. Knocking the lunge aside the man stepped forwards and cut down.
Robert tried to deflect it, but only managed to catch it on the blade, jarring his entire arm.
This blade was too heavy to use in the fencing style that he knew; he was used to foils or rapiers, not longswords.
Why he had not thought to get one, or why his parents or the guards had not tried to train him in a more useful fighting style was beyond him.
It was stupid that he should be so useless with the blade he had taken. Everything about this was stupid and pointless and could easily have been fixed. If his parents had just been better at wiping out the-
His dodged as the other man’s blade swung at him.
Evidently he didn’t have time to lose himself in thought.
Switching his grip on the blade he managed to parry the next strike without hurting himself, and pulled off a riposte that didn’t open him up too much.
But it was still a losing fight. He would not be able to keep this up for much longer, and then the town would burn.
He ducked under another swing, deflected the next one past his chest and slashed at the bandit on his right’s legs.
It was easily blocked but it bought him the time he needed to grap the bedsheet and swirl it into the air.
Keeping that moving with his spare hand he began to try and move towards the door.
He could hear more fighting from out in the hall and other parts of the inn; clearly he was not the only one being ambushed.
This was likely why the inn had been so full; the bandits had been trying to set up this deception.
And it had worked. The town had been taken by surprise and appeared near helpless before this assault.
Robert tossed the sheet at the man on his left. At the surprised shout he figured it had probably tangled the man for the minute he needed.
Now one on one he could bring all his fencing skills into play. Keeping an ear out for the other man freeing himself he began to cut, parry, lunge, and riposte with greater and greater speed and skill, getting used to the weight of the blade.
The bandit began a slow retreat as small cuts and nicks appeared on his arms and face.
He noticed too late that he had been backed into a corner. Lunging desperately the man threw a barrage of blows that Robert deflected with only some trouble. Then he raised his blade for an overhead chop and Robert saw his moment.
As the blade descended he sidestepped and thrust his own sword into the man’s chest.
The bandit looked at him in stunned silence for a moment, and then the man’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction before they went dark.
Realizing what that meant Robert spun, trying to pull his sword free as the other bandit swung his sword towards the prince.
Time seemed to slow as the blade inched closer and Robert’s life flashed before his eyes, his past, and all the things he would never do, his broken promises.
He was going to die.

Natasi stood at the top of the slope and looked down at the battle below. It was almost done, and the bandits were dead. Rens had managed to rally the guards and turn the tide.
Damn that man. She’d need to do something then. Perhaps take matter into her own hands.
She fingered the small dagger at her waist before climbing back onto her horse. She had best return to camp before he got back. And the most fanatic of her followers among the knights would vouch that she had stayed there the entire time; those were who she had arranged to have left behind.
All she needed now was a way to kill Rens.
But she didn’t trust herself to be able to do the deed. Knowing him he would somehow survive a dagger. Then her Sketching would be undone and she’d be at odds with him, and perhaps the rest of the guards.
No, she needed something more foolproof. She’d have had the assassins do it, but they were busy seeing to it that the next step of her plan was being carried out.
And she could not keep on delaying with Rens either. She needed to actually locate Robert, something that was proving hard to do. So far they had not had any signs of him, even though she was travelling in the direction she had seen him go from the staircase window.
So either he had proved unreliable, as usual, or they just had not reached him yet. The next town was a small little place called Relland. Perhaps from there they could find him.

Rens paused, breathing heavily. The battle was all but won; there were only a few bandits left.
“Take them alive! We’ll need to interrogate them, find out why they attacked us!”
He planted his sword and stretched a bit, trying to take the tension out of his frozen muscles. And grunted in pain as his back seized up.
He’d forgotten about the stab wound, but he needed it to be treated, and soon.
But first he needed to talk to Jom. The boy had some explaining to do, both why he had disobeyed orders, and then why he had suddenly changed his mind, begun acting more normal again.

Natasi smiled grimly, thinking back on the battle.
At least she had managed to kill that guard. Somehow the boy had slipped from her control. How it had happened she did not know, but she had ended his life soon after. He would be sharing no secrets with the captain.
She patted the crossbow tied to her horse as she headed back to camp.

Rens looked down at the young man. A crossbow bolt had caught him between the shoulder blades. It didn’t look like that had killed him, but it had knocked him forwards into the mud.
The poor man had drowned to death.
He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer to whatever may be listening. A few words about the boy.
And then he turned back to the bandits still alive. He would get some answers today, whether from his own soldiers or not.

Robert tried to lunge away as the blade came towards him but it was no good.
He felt the pressure as it pushed against his armour, and then the release of it as it cut through. The slow drag as it entered his flesh, the icy cold tingling as it cut across his stomach and up towards his shoulder.
He could feel it catch for a moment, then tick-tick-tick along his ribs, like the hands of a clock counting down to his death. Something snapped inside his body, he could feel it.
And then the pressure, the drag stopped as the sword pulled free. He saw the spray of blood fly into the air, felt the sudden cold along the path, then the line of fire follow it seconds later as the cut nerves screamed, felt the warm thick blood seeping out.
The room swam for a moment as he fell to his knees and the sword fell from his hand. Through vision that was going dark he saw Brethan run into the room, a bloody sword raised in his hands, face a mask of rage.
“No” he wanted to say “No, don’t do it, run away instead, both of us don’t need to die” but no words came.
His eyelids felt heavy and floated down once as he began to fall backwards. He forced them open in time to see the bandit swing his sword all the way around and slice into the poor boy’s neck.
Then his eyelids grew too heavy again and they fell closed.
There was a moment of panic as everything went dark and quiet, but then a warm blanket began to enfold him. He smiled, his lips barely twitching as a bright light blossomed before him.
But something clawed at him, stopped him from going towards it.
He had failed.
The realization hit him harder than the sword had.
He has failed at the end. He would die now, without fulfilling his promise to Brethan, without doing anything to leave Destria in a better position.
In fact he was leaving it in a worse position. He was killing Destria. While he lay rotting his parents would continue searching for him, never to find him.
And the Dukes and Duchesses would rise and declare a succession and there would be true war. And the number of bandits would grow, and the land would fall into chaos.
And during that time Lomwar might launch another attack, and then the Torin Islands would all fall into chaos.
And everything would burn, the whole world would fall apart.
And it was all his fault. If he had not been so rash, if he had stayed instead of running, if he had been a good boy, a good prince, done what was right for the realm not for himself then this would not have happened.
He would be forgotten, at most a footnote, the missing heir who had sparked the wars.
He would not be remembered as anyone who had done anything great, who had rid the land of bandits, who had tried to save Destria.
He would be the prince who failed, and then, he would be forgotten. No history books about him.
His head hit the floor and bounced back up as he grew cold.
He was so cold, cold and alone, and he would be forever. The annals of history held no place for a failure.
He would never…
He would never be…
He would…

His head hit the floor again, but he was gone.