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Orsa of Terminus: The War Renewed

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a part of Orsa of Terminus: The War Renewed, by Tiko.

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The Orsa of Terminus: The War Renewed


Part 2 of The Orsa of Terminus

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Several thousand years ago...


Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve c-“

Image“Sylvire,”
ImageIt was with a start that Sylvire jerked back to the present, shaking her head free of the daydream that had flashed momentarily before her. The hand of one of her companions rested upon her shoulder – Oron, a frown upon his elegant features, framed by a long mane of dark hair. The centaur turned away from Sylvire as she regained her bearings, his gaze directed towards the entrance of the chamber in which they stood.
Image“Sorry, Oron.” The elven sorceress said, shaking her head, “I drifted.”
ImageOron smiled, “You have more than reason to be tired. But we must remain alert – we have yet to hear from the others. The hour of the meeting draws near, and we are the only two present. Such an oddity is worthy of note in these times.”
ImageThe chamber in which the pair stood was dimly lit by a single candle-chandelier hanging from the roof, and a set of braziers on the east and west walls. There was a damp feel to the air, the occasional drip from the roof as water ran down through cracks in the stone pierced the silence. A stairwell in the far wall led upwards, and the dim glow of sunlight could be spotted disappearing around the corner. Three solid metal doors formed the only other exits from the room, one in each door, set closer to the back of the room than the entrance.
ImageThis was one of the Patronus’ scattered safehouses – spread throughout the land in isolated and hidden locations, either heavily guarded by allied forces or entirely unknown to all but the Patronus themselves. This place was one of the latter – intended as the site for a long-forgotten king’s tomb, the fickle man decided after its completion that he in fact wanted to be buried elsewhere, leaving the solid and defensible underground complex abandoned, where Oron had discovered it decades ago.
Image“I believe that Peregrin, Arran and Aurion are travelling together, as are Gawyn and Shaiel, as well as Kael, Selwyn and Merethyl. Mirana has her creatures and Luriel her stealth. I am sure that they are well – the weather is not exactly conducive to swift travel at present.” Sylvire replied. Indeed, outside it was pouring with heavy rain. The occasional roll of thunder was audible from above ground.
ImageOron nodded. “Of course,” he said, pondering, “I am simply uneasy. The urgency of Aurion’s message was uncharacteristic. Something is amiss, that he would call us all together on such short notice, and urge us to travel together. His emphasis on making our departures secret was odd also. It does not bode well for the news he has to bring us.”
ImageAnd the centaur was indeed right. Sylvire frowned, biting her lip in thought. The celestial had detoured specifically to escort Peregrin – the youngest of the group – so there was an indication that he expected the group to come under attack. It was worrying. Sylvire and Oron had rendezvoused a short distance from Amarathia, Sylvire’s home city, and their journey had been uneventful. But that did not mean that the others were so lucky.
ImageFootsteps drew Sylvire’s attention from her thoughts once again, and both her eyes and Oron’s were directed towards the stairwell. After a few moments a man came into view, tall and handsome, with soft (if sodden) blonde hair and brilliant red-and-gold light armour. But the most eye-catching aspect him, as ever, was not his garb or features, but the four wings pure white that spread from his back. Aurion lifted a hand in greeting to the pair, wiping water from his face before he spoke.
Image“Greetings, Oron, Sylvire.” The celestial smiled through a curtain of wet hair, soaked through. Wings, armour and all dripped with rain. “Arran and Peregrin are just behind me.”
ImageIndeed, a few moments later another pair of winged beings descended the stairs. Arran, like Aurion, was a full celestial, and four white wings adorned his back, and a characteristic head of blonde hair fell to his shoulders. In contrast, the shorter, younger Peregrin’s wings were dark brown, as was his hair, tied in a braid from the base of his neck to his lower back.
Image“It’s good to see you all arrived safely,” Sylvire said, returning the smile and bowing her head to the trio, “I take it that the weather is as unpleasant as your sodden state suggests?” the sorceress chuckled.
Image“Yeeaah ...” Peregrin folded his arms and raised an eyebrow, “You think? Nah, we just went for a swim before coming down.” The youth smirked. “Yeah, it’s kinda dire out there.”
ImageSylvire laughed, “I see you haven’t changed, Peregrin. Come, all of you, let’s go further inside and you can dry off. I’ll set the fire going in the main chamber.” She said, gesturing towards the door in the back wall.
ImageAurion nodded, “You three go ahead, I need to speak to Oron. We’ll join you shortly.” He said, waving Arran and Peregrin forwards.
ImageThe two males joined Sylvire as she made her way through the doors into a far more homely room – a large red rug stretched over the floor, and several armchairs were scattered around a fireplace. An area to store food, and to cook it, was located to the side of the room, and it was well lit with braziers and hovering magical lights that activated as Sylvire entered.
Image“How have you been, Sylvire?” Arran asked, the older of the winged pair stepping to alongside the elven sorceress with a smile, effeminate features characteristic of his race.
Image“Well enough.” Sylvire smiled, “Elias is well, before you ask. He and his father are back in Amarathia, I have told them to be alert for danger, after Aurion’s message. Has he told you what he wished to speak with us all about?”
ImageArran shook his head, furrowing his brow, “He wanted to wait until we were here. I suppose that must be what he is talking to Oron about. You, he and Selwyn are his closer confidants. I expect that he will speak with you before he speaks to the rest of us.”
ImageSylvire nodded thoughtfully as she approached the fireplace, and with a flick of her hand cast wood from a storage crate to its right into it, setting it alight. “Perhaps.” She said simply, “I find it odd that he would leave you in the dark, though. I imagine that it must be grave news indeed.”
ImageA curse from the other side of the room drew the two’s attention to Peregrin scowling as a particularly large rat stared out at him from one of the food cupboards. “Bastard rat, eating my food.” He muttered, “Get out!” The half-breed pointed a finger at the creature, one of the bracers upon his arm dimly glowing as a small jolt of electricity shot from his finger to shock it into motion, fleeing with a squeak.
ImageSylvire and Arran exchanged a wry glance at the younger Patronus member’s antics, and Sylvire smirked, laughing. The angelic blonde soon joined her, and Peregrin turned with a ‘harrumph’. “It’s hardly that funny! It caught me by surprise ...” he muttered.
ImageThe three eventually settled down into seats and began exchanging small talk, and time passed like this for a few minutes before the door to the room opened again. Instead of admitting Oron or Aurion, though, two others stepped into the room. The first was a young man with short dark hair, clad in elegant silver armour. His head was turned slightly away from the three in the room, finishing a sentence directed towards his companion, a decidedly scantily clad young woman – wearing only a cloak, a wound cloth around her chest, leather shorts and long boots and gloves, she had more skin exposed than was strictly proper, or indeed healthy. That didn’t seem to bother the pale blonde, though, and neither did it surprise anyone. All of the Patronus were used to Shaiel’s oddities by now.
ImageSylvire rose as Gawyn and Shaiel entered, smiling in greeting. “Gawyn, Shaiel – it is good to see you well.” She said, “I take it your journey was uneventful?”
ImageTurning to properly face the room, Gawyn nodded. “It was, yes. There was a minor hiccup when we encountered a travelling mage who was close to sensing that Shaiel was a shapeshifter rather than merely a horse, but I believe that his surprise in encountering me alone distracted him from that.”
ImageThe reason for this being, of course, that Gawyn was a prince. Next in line for the throne of Cordelia, a human kingdom, it would certainly cause comment to encounter him alone in the wilderness. Hopefully, Sylvire thought, the mage wouldn’t reach a populated centre any time soon – or that rumour would spread like wildfire. It was well known that the prince was a member of the Patronus, and the only logical conclusion to be made from such an encounter was that the Patronus were active. It would surely inspire people to inquire as to the whereabouts of other prominent members – herself, Peregrin, Selwyn and Merethyl were all well known in their respective homes, and their absence would quickly be noted.
ImageAlas, it was too late to be concerned over that now. Sylvire returned her attention to the conversation at hand, where Shaiel was beginning to speak.
Image“...would have been ... inconvenient at best, if the mage had requested that I identify myself. Guild mages are not fond of rogues in the slightest.”
ImageShaiel was a rogue mage – a man or woman who had been declared unsafe or criminal by the council of mages, and barred entry into any college or academy of magic. In most, but not all cases they were also branded as wanted by the law, which was true in Shaiel’s case. The woman had earned the label after she paralysed and robbed an influential noble mage who had attempted to touch her inappropriately. Shaiel hated being touched at the best of times.
ImageSylvire nodded. “That much I know. I believe that the council have been somewhat put to shame since Aurion chose you, however.” The sorceress smiled. Being selected by Aurion to hold an artefact was something that instantly labelled you as a hero, no matter your history (with the possible exception of Mirana, but then people were always wary of the dead), and that one of the council’s declared rogues had been picked brought their judgement into question.
ImageGawyn slumped down into an armchair, running a hand through wet hair. “’tis foul weather in which to travel. I hope that this meeting is as important as Aurion implied.” The prince sighed, shaking his head. Shaiel slunk across the room and towards the fireplace, crouching downwards and shifting mid-movement to the form of a wildcat, curling up beside the fire to dry her fur.
Image“Twinkletoes doesn’t tend to get his feathers in a twist over nothing.” The cat said (it was always slightly disconcerting to hear Shaiel’s voice coming from an animal’s mouth, and Sylvire was always bemused as to how she managed it in cases when she didn’t have any lips).
ImageMore time drifted by and Oron and Aurion rejoined the main group, albeit Aurion only briefly. The celestial paused in the doorway as Oron was walking across the room, and looked to Sylvire. “Could I have a few words with you also, Sylvire, before the others arrive?” he asked.
ImageSylvire nodded and rose, following the celestial out again into the entrance hall, before onwards into a side chamber where a smaller fire was lit for warmth. “What is it you have called us here for, Aurion?” the sorceress asked, “I assume that is what you wish to talk about, before you speak to the entire group?”
ImageAurion nodded. “It is. I wanted the more experienced of us to know before relatively new initiates. You are well aware that before now the Patronus have been relatively unopposed – there have been cults and the like that wished to restore the Sealed One, but those unorganised and independent of him. We’ve never faced a real threat to the artefacts’ safety.”
Image“There have been threats, but none of a calibre that we could not handle even as individuals with our respective allies. Are you saying that there is such a threat?” Sylvire asked, frowning.
ImageThe celestial sighed. “I believe so. They are called the Orsa of Terminus. I have detected that the Sealed One has become more restless in his prison. The seal is not perfect, and he has always maintained a degree of indirect influence over the outside world. Lately, he has been exploiting this more directly. Perhaps the cracks in his prison are widening, but I have become aware of his interaction with a number of individuals. They have formed a group, counterpart to ours, intent on acquiring the artefacts and releasing him. He has imparted a degree of his power that he can to them, and they are deadly. I fear that we do not have long before we will be at war.”
ImageSylvire’s eyes widened. “That is... grave news indeed.” She whispered, “How much of his power has he granted them? Surely they are not so powerful as to challenge us as a whole?”
Image“I believe they are.” Aurion said sadly, “Even with all twelve of us, they rival our power. I do not know if they surpass us, but their methods have no boundaries, or limits. I fear they will exploit our friends, families, try and weaken us and draw us apart. That is what I cannot allow, and is the reason I need to talk to all of the others today. We can’t let them isolate us.”
Image“How are we to avoid it, though? Are we expected to abandon our families and lives to go into hiding? With respect, Aurion, many of us dwell in places with armies, or hosts of sorcerers and mages. Perhaps those such as Oron, Shaiel, Mirana and Luriel might be advised to shift in their manner of living to more public and protected areas, but surely the rest of us are not truly ‘isolated’?”
ImageAurion frowned. “That is, I believe, the issue. The Patronus is complacent – none of you experienced the power of the Sealed One and his lieutenants when he was free. His soldiers levelled cities, struck down citadels and entire armies of both warriors and mages. Who knows what powers he has bestowed upon this Orsa?”
ImageSylvire nodded slowly, “That is true, but surely from his prison he cannot impart such strength, no?”
ImageSighing, Aurion shook his head slowly. “I do not know. But I do not know whether we can afford to take such a risk.”
Image“We will see. This does not sit well with me, Aurion. I know my duty, but I do not know if it is necessary for us to go into hiding just because the Sealed One has extended a tendril of influence. We were chosen because we are powerful warriors, we are supposed to be able to fight against him, surely, rather than run and hide?” Sylvire noted.
Image“I simply fear, Sylvire. If we are complacent, and underestimate the foe, then the world will pay the price. Would it not be better to overestimate them?”
Image“You have spent your entire life dedicated to the Patronus, Aurion. I respect you immensely, but you are distant. You do not have family, loved ones that you want to hold on to. I will not leave my son, and my husband, unless it is absolutely necessary for the safety of all of us. I find it hard to believe that these faceless foes should be assumed to be so much more powerful than us.”
ImageAurion sighed. “We will speak with the others, then. I will not enforce this on you, or them. Those who wish to can join me in forming a more permanent base where we can go underground. Those who do not wish to can remain in their own sanctuaries. Let us rejoin the others.”
ImageSylvire nodded, and followed Aurion back out, dismissing the fire behind them with a wave of her hand. They crossed the entrance hall and re-entered the main chamber to find that the others had arrived whilst they had been talking.
ImageMirana was the most obvious, as usual, the dead woman standing out from the crowd with her grey skin, oddly rigid short hair and crackling aura of magic. Glowing eyes were turned on the two as they entered, and the warlock inclined her head. “Glad you could join us, o’ esteemed leader,” she said to Aurion, a half-smirk on her face, “I hope for your sake that you have a good reason to call me here. It is not a short journey.”
ImageAurion nodded to Mirana and began to reply as Sylvire slipped away to reclaim her seat. She noted figure in the corner of the room, almost entirely obscured by a cloak – Luriel, the dark elf assassin, was not the most social of the Patronus, and indeed the majority of her attention was focused upon the musket-like artefact she carried. She had an almost obsessive tendency to polish and tend to her weaponry, and seemed to care more for it than for other people. But assassins were always an odd bunch.
ImageThe two wood elves – Merethyl and Kaelan – were perched on chairs near to Gawyn and Arran, obviously in deep discussion. Merethyl’s long brown hair was tied back in a ponytail to minimise the soaking it had taken from the rain, though the wood elf was used to extreme conditions – she spent little time indoors, being a ranger, instead relying on thick cloaks and survival skills to keep her going whatever the weather. Kaelan, by contrast, was clad in heavier armour than the artefact leather armour of the ranger. He was a fighter, previously a royal guard, and looking good was a secondary requirement of the job – red cloak and shining plate armour fulfilling it quite nicely.
ImageSylvire smiled as she noted the last new arrival, Selwyn. A fellow magic user and elf, even if she was of blood elf heritage that was frowned upon in Amarathia, Selwyn was one of Sylvire’s closer friends amongst the Patronus, and she made her way over to where she was speaking with Shaiel and Peregrin.
Image“Selwyn, it is good to see you again.” She said warmly, inclining her head.
ImageThe blood elf looked up at Sylvire with a returned smile and rose from her seat to embrace Sylvire. “And to see you, Sylvire. It has been too long.” She said, nodding her head.
ImageSylvire returned the brief embrace with a sigh. “How have you fared?” she inquired after Selwyn released her. The blonde elf was clad rather inappropriately for the weather, in an elegant red robe with only a thin cloak – but as a mage, she had other means of protecting herself from the weather, and remained dry.
Image“Well, thank you. There is little in the way of trouble in the capital, as I’m sure you know.” Selwyn replied, retaking her seat. Sylvire sat opposite her, and was about to reply when Aurion raised his voice over the low hum of conversation amongst the group.
Image“It’s good to see you all made it here unharmed,” the celestial began, “I have some news of the utmost importance that I need to inform you of.”
ImageSylvire leant back in her chair and sighed, as Aurion began to explain to the others the situation. She saw the same conflicted expression upon Oron’s face as was on her own. Aurion did have a tendency towards being over-cautious, but at the same time, the world hung in the balance.
ImageIt remained to be seen how the group would react to the suggestion. Sylvire didn’t doubt that Aurion would be disappointed, though. Perhaps Shaiel, Mirana, the other more isolated individuals would be willing to go along with his plan, but she knew that many of the Patronus had families. Gawyn in particular had responsibilities to his people – and an entire kingdom to protect him. The celestial was perhaps asking too much, without evidence of the power of these people.

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Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, wh-“

Image“Sylvire?”
ImageWith a start, Sylvire blinked and snapped back to attention, daydream fading. A strange sense of de ja vu washed over her, but faded just as quickly. She placed a hand on her head and looked to the source of the voice, where Selwyn stood with a raised eyebrow.
Image“Sorry – I was miles away.” She said, smiling. “What was it you were saying?”
ImageIt had been almost a week since Aurion’s meeting, and for Sylvire, little had changed. As she had predicted, the Patronus response to this vague threat had not been to go quickly into hiding, but rather to compromise. Precautions would be taken, increased security, escape routes, and the like. Aurion, Arran, Mirana, Shaiel, Kaelan and Luriel had agreed to work together to create a more permanent base of operations that retreat could be made to at any point, whilst the others returned to their families and homes.
ImageA compromise – not complacent, but not (as Sylvire thought Aurion’s recommendation had been) paranoid either. Now just arrived back in Amarathia, Sylvire was joined for a few days by Selwyn. The blood elf said she had been interested in the Amarathian Library for a long time, and Sylvire was more than glad to show her around for a little while before she went to see her family.
Image“I was wondering aloud – how much magic must have gone into this place.” Selwyn replied, gazing around the warmly lit and gloriously decorated chamber. It was extensive, beyond the realms of feasibility – outside the building was large, but not so large as to contain all that lay within. An entrance hall led through into a vast single chamber lined and filled with a maze of bookshelves that seemed to go on forever.
ImageSylvire smiled and nodded. “A great deal. The entire magical community of Amarathia came together after the Great War to create this place, where knowledge might be preserved even if all else fell. The seal on the door cannot be broken.”
Image“Can it not?” Selwyn raised an eyebrow again.
Image“Well, yes, but the significance of it is that should the door be forced, it will not lead to the same location as if the seal had been lifted. The door is not entirely necessary, even. The seal won’t respond to anyone who does not know its enchantment – which is very few, as most times it is unsealed – and if it is not lifted the door will simply lead to the inside of the building, entirely empty. The actual library is separate from the realm itself.” Sylvire explained, gesturing around, “Locked in magical stasis, of a sort. In theory, one could create a link to another part of the world and travel between here and there with just a short walk through the library. But the amount of meticulous spellcraft that would take would almost make it not worth it.”
ImageSelwyn nodded thoughtfully. “Marvellous...” she murmured, nodding to herself. “But I have kept you too long – did you not say you needed to meet Seridur soon?”
ImageSylvire blinked, and nodded. “So I did – I hope that you find what you are looking for, the librarians will help you, I am sure. I’ll talk to you another time.”
ImageAnd with that, Sylvire left the library. The sun was hanging directly above the city – it was around noon, then – and Sylvire was meeting her husband and son within a few minutes. It was a short walk through the thriving, gleaming city to the area ‘belonging’ to the house of Nasazura, ‘The Royal Swan’ as the line was known. The sector wasn’t truly owned by Sylvire’s house, but the area was so heavily populated by people loyal to her and her family that it might as well be. It was a tendency of occupants of the city to try and cosy up to the more powerful houses, both physically and politically, to further their own gains.
ImageThankfully, her duties in the Patronus meant that Sylvire seldom had to play the game of houses, but she was by no means an amateur. She could weave words and intentions alongside the masters – it had been taught to her from birth.
ImageWhen Sylvire walked around to the garden area that stood behind her mansion home, she smiled. There waiting for her were the two most important people in her life. As they spotted her, a smile lit up the face of the young boy, and he ran toward her. “Mummy!” he exclaimed, dark brown hair shining in the sunlight as he ran, and Sylvire crouched down with a warm smile to meet him. The young elf practically threw himself at the sorceress and wrapped his arms around her, and she returned the embrace, picking him up and laughing happily.
Image“Hello sweetheart!” Sylvire exclaimed, “My goodness, aren’t you in a good mood? What mischief have you been up to that you’re so delighted, hm?”
ImageThe boy shook his head, “Nuh uh! I haven’t done anything! I’m just glad to see you!”
ImageSylvire laughed and kissed the boy on the forehead, “I’m glad to see you too, Elias honey.”
ImageA chuckle drew the sorceress’ attention away from the boy momentarily, as the robed man made his way over. Long dark hair fell over his shoulders, framing elegant features and emerald eyes. “We’re both very happy to see you.” Seridur, Sylvire’s husband said, smiling. “It’s always a welcome sight to see you again after one of your sudden disappearances. At least I was awake to hear about it this time, hm?”
ImageSylvire smiled at Seridur and walked over to put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “You know I’m just as glad to be returning. If it were up to me I would forget all about this Patronus business, but you know as well as I the day that happens is the day that I forget that the sun exists.”
ImageNodding, Seridur put an arm around both Sylvire and Elias. “Shall we go inside?” he asked, “Lunch should be ready shortly, I believe – Carya has gone all out again to welcome you back.”
ImageThe sorceress raised an eyebrow. “All out, hm? That certainly sounds promising.” She said. Carya was the head cook for the household, and she was more than good at her job. “Let’s. Come on Elias, I can’t carry you everywhere.” Sylvire lowered her son to the floor with a chuckle, the boy pouting for a moment before quickly shifting back to his previous cheer.
Image“Carya’s making roast, mama! She was out getting the veg’tables just earlier, I saw her! And she’s gone to the market and got a lamb, ‘cause it’s your favourite, and I went too and she let me choose which one!” the boy exclaimed excitably, beaming.
Image“Oh, that sounds wonderful.” Sylvire said, but Elias cut her off before she could continue.
Image“And look, she let me get this for you too!” The boy rummaged around in his pockets for a minute before pulling out a silver necklace, with the shape of a swan upon it encrusted with diamond and a sapphire for an eye.
ImageSylvire was suitably impressed – the boy certainly had an eye for quality (though she didn’t doubt he’d had help from Carya – the cook knew more about most things than she let on), and she took the necklace with a smile. “Thank you, sweetheart! It’s beautiful, I love it! It suits me perfectly!”
ImageElias beamed, very pleased with himself for the purchase. “I knew you’d like it!” he said pridefully, practically bouncing off of the ground with energy. “Come on, let’s go inside! I’ll show you the picture I made while you were away! It’s you beating a bunch of evil monsters!”
ImageThe boy continued to talk excitably as he led Sylvire inside, and the sorceress’ heart was warmed. She was home. And she knew she had made the right decision not to go with Aurion. This was where she belonged.

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Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twelve become one twel-“

Dreaming. Some people believe in the significance of dreams, others don’t. Dreams can be memories, or dreams can be predictive, or dreams can be wild and unrelated to the real world. But there is no question that dreams can show you what your conscious mind forgets, or dismisses.

Memories.



ImageIt was a dark night that he came for her. There had been rumours that he was coming to the city, but Sylvire had not put any thought into them. She had not thought that it had relevance to her. Aurion, the ancient leader of the Patronus was coming, they said. Nobody but the Patronus themselves really knew anything about the celestial. His race was rare as it was, seldom showing themselves outside of their heavenly homes, but Aurion was distant even for them.
ImageIt was widely known that a member of the Patronus had recently given up the mantle as they passed out of their prime. A human warrior, nearing his fiftieth year and no longer the fearsome fighter he had once been. Seldom was it that the title of Patronus passed any other way these days – the last violent death of one of the Patronus had been centuries ago. Nobody really wanted the world to end apart from a few crazy cults, and Aurion was well practised in picking out responsible allies that wouldn’t get themselves into trouble.
ImageBut now, as ever when a Patronus handed in the towel, there was musing over who would take up their mantle. And now Aurion was coming here, the city of Amarathia was filled with talk of little else. In a place where reputation and belief meant everything, being chosen by Aurion would be a blessing for anyone, commoner or noble, allied to a house or not.
ImageBut Sylvire herself was far more interested in her magic, and in the library. And that was where she was, when he found her.
Image“Sylvire Nasazura?”
ImageThe sorceress lifted her head from where she sat with a tome, glancing up at the figure at the end of the aisle. “Yes?” she asked, “One moment, could you-“
Image“It’s good to meet you. My name is Aurion Caldore. I’ve come to ask you whether you would be interested in becoming one of the Patronus.”
ImageThat was not what Sylvire had been expecting. Blinking in the dim light, the sorceress saw that the man was indeed who he said he was. Well. That was certainly a surprise.
Image“I... well... well. This is slightly unexpected, but... are you quite certain you... no, that’s an obvious question. I suppose that you’re always certain.” Sylvire said, blinking and setting her book down. Rising to her feet, the elf took a breath.
Image“Take however long you want,” Aurion said, smiling. “It is a very significant decision.”
ImageThat was an understatement. To defend the world against the Sealed One was no small matter. Everyone knew the stories these days, with the Patronus still recognised throughout the lands. But there was no greater honour. Nobody, to Sylvire’s knowledge, had ever turned the offer down.
ImageSylvire spent her life studying magic and sorcery, with little interest in the politics that were second nature to her. Now here was a chance to put her powers to good use. “Yes,” she said finally nodding, “I would be.”
ImageAurion’s smiled widened. “Excellent. Now, would you like me to start at the beginning, or are you familiar with the legend?”
Image“It would probably be best if you tell the story from your own personal experience. There are a number of versions of the legend, it would do well to have it fresh in mind...”


Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twel-“



Image“Would you please slow down?”
ImageSylvire scowled, robes gathered up about her ankles as she attempted to hurry her way through the forest. “If you are going to make a point of forging ahead, then there is absolutely no point in us being partnered!”
ImageA laugh came from the trees ahead, as the sorceress’ companion slipped back around to fold her arms and give her an amused look. “I apologise,” Merethyl said, “I’m used to running with wood elves. You city elves are so slow!”
Image“Slow I may be,” Sylvire grumbled, “But if you run into that cultist camp without me you will be slaughtered. You may be skilled, but they are numerous, and without my magic you haven’t a hope.”
ImageThe wood elf laughed once, “Touché, Sylvire, touché. Though I’m quietly confident that I could eliminate the majority of them before the alarm was sounded, I will pace myself to allow you to keep up.”
ImageMerethyl had joined the Patronus a few decades after Sylvire. Sylvire had been the first of a new wave of Patronus, as the generation of human members slipped into old age within a (relative to an elf) short period of time. She was a ranger, one of the elite hunters and warriors of the wood-elf people, a ghost in the forest that you didn’t see coming till her arrow was sticking out of your neck. She wore the Nature’s Guardian armour, a fitting artefact for such a fighter.
ImageThe two were journeying to wipe out a camp of cultists who revered the Sealed One, and had been responsible for an assassination attempt on Sylvire – a thoroughly thwarted assassination attempt, but not something that could be ignored nonetheless. They just had to camp in a forest, though. Travelling through a forest with a wood elf ranger just made you look bad, no matter who you were...


Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can rele-“



ImageIt was really rather disconcerting when on a street with about three dozen individuals holding animated conversations, you were the only one with a heartbeat.
Image“... and you’re quite certain that I’m not going to be attacked?” Sylvire queried her companion, turning towards the dead woman with a frown.
ImageMirana cackled, smirking and folding her arms. “As long as you don’t decide to go on a divine purge, or preach the wrongness of animated corpses, you’ll be fine. You weren’t planning on that, were you? That would just be a bad idea.”
ImageThe warlock’s glowing eyes were disconcerting at the best of times, but in a room full of talking corpses and with an evil grin, framed by a crackling magical aura, she was just offputting. When Mirana had joined the Patronus, there had been something of an uproar. Most people considered the living dead to be abominations, and the sentient ones particularly bad. Mirana herself was even an openly declared enemy of most kingdoms, though she seldom did anything about it.
ImageBut Aurion knew best, Sylvire had decided, and from experiencing the undead woman Sylvire had to agree. Whilst Mirana suffered from a chronic lack of morals, she was by no means evil. Her ideals were few, and those that existed differed from the vast majority of the world’s, but amongst them was rather firmly set ‘staying undead’, something which would be rather impeded by the return of the Sealed One.
ImageAnd once you got past the constantly burning eye sockets and general sense of darkness about her, she was nice enough company. She seldom gave any impression other than that of a particularly darkly-humoured mage, and In Sylvire’s opinion was far less despicable than many politicians and monarchs she knew.
Image“Right.” Sylvire nodded, “Then lead the way.”
ImageSylvire and Mirana were currently in the Pits, the affectionate name given to the district of a dark elf city which housed a large number of the sentient dead. They were here to find information on a notorious undead thief who had (or at least who Aurion believed had) been infected by the taint of the Sealed One, after performing a string of murders where before her actions had been entirely non-violent, leaving behind an aura that a city watch mage had picked up on and contacted the council of mages about, who in turn had contacted the Patronus. The problem with dealing with this was that thieves were annoyingly good at not being found, and their friends were even more annoyingly good at not telling anyone about them.
ImageMirana was here for obvious reasons, but Sylvire wasn’t entirely sure why she’d been chosen for this. Apparently it was because of her political and persuasive skills, she might be able to convince people to talk. Apparently.
ImageThe warlock head forwards down the street, and Sylvire followed, feeling rather like a cat in a dog pound...




Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twel-“




Image“Sylvire, to your left!”
ImageAt Arran’s shout, Sylvire turned sharply to the left in time to see a robed man charging for her, dagger lifted and eyes crazed. In a swift movement, she swung her staff around and discharged a bolt of lightning straight into his chest. The man was tossed backwards forcefully, and smoking, crashed to the floor several feet away.
ImageIn the midst of battle, Sylvire turned to check on her allies. Arran, the celestial priest, remained on the back lines, Scepter of Judgement glowing brightly in his grasp and occasionally flashing with a beam of holy light that would seek out a cultist and strike him or her down in a flurry of divine energy.
ImageOn the front lines, Kaelan clashed with the focus of the cultists, the armoured half-elf, half-fae a whirlwind of metal. Surrounded by a flaming barrier, he was nigh on untouchable, and where he walked cultists fell in droves, either by his blade or by the flames of the Elemental Shield.
ImageKaelan was an odd mix of races, in the sense that it was incredibly rare for any of the fae to show their faces to the other races, let alone partner with them. But Kael’s mother had fallen in love with a wood elf, and he was the result. Set apart from other elves by his short stature and white irises, Kael wasn’t the most sociable person but a skilled fighter he most certainly was.
ImagePrior to his selection for the Patronus, Kael had been a royal guard for the queen of the wood elves, a highly esteemed role in itself, and in his new role Kael had been allowed to keep his fitted armour for the simple reason that it wouldn’t fit anyone else, because he was so short by comparison to the other elves!
ImageIt was not long, with the combination of Sylvire’s magic and Kael’s blade, until the den of cultists lay dead in its entirety, and the half-elf sheathed his weapon. Arran let out a breath and stepped forward, murmuring a prayer as Sylvire approached Kael, arms crossed.
Image“They certainly put up something of a fuss...” she murmured, raising her eyebrow. The den of cultists, unlike most, had not snivelled and surrendered as soon as the battle turned against them, but instead had fought to the last man.
ImageKael nodded, “Drugs, I believe.” He stated simply. Kael was very much a statements man, and simple ones at that. Conversation was not his strong point.
Image“Drugs?” Sylvire inquired.
ImageKael nodded a second time, bending down to rummage through the pockets of a fallen cultist. After a few moments, he straightened and held up a vial of liquid. “Some form of psychedelic, probably. Sends them into a rage, no precision but plenty of raw desire to kill, which in some cases is just as dangerous.”
ImageThe sorceress raised an eyebrow, examining the vial curiously. It made sense. She often wondered how Kael came to such correct conclusions so quickly, but when asked about it he simply said that he took logical steps.
ImageAs Sylvire was examining the vial, Arran approached the pair from behind. “We should go,” the celestial said, “Aurion will want to know what happened, and if we leave him for too long he’ll start to fret. He’s like a neurotic mother, you know, so we’d best not delay.”
ImageThe priest chuckled and turned for the exit, and after only a moment’s delay Kael followed him. Sylvire took a last glance at the scattered bodies, and discarded the vial with a clink as it hit the floor. That sort of thing ought not to see the light of day...




Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twelve become one-“



ImageIt wasn’t the first palace that Sylvire had visited, but it certainly ranked highly amongst the grandest.
ImageAs the sorceress was guided through the hallways of King Tae’Dorian’s palace, located in the capital of his kingdom of Cordelia, she admired the decorations. Tapestries, vases and jewels all lined the walls. It was reminiscent of the palaces of Amarathia, though it could not quite compete with them on grandeur. So much more focus was placed upon appearance back home, it was almost refreshing to visit less decadent places.
ImageUnlike most palace visits she had made, however, Sylvire wasn’t here to meet the monarch, but instead his son. Gawyn Tae’Dorian, prince of Cordelia and high-profile member of the Patronus. He was in the training yard at the moment, Sylvire’s guide said, and indeed the sound of battle could be heard as she was led closer.
ImageEmerging out into a courtyard, Sylvire was greeted by an elegant display of combat. Four knights stood within the ring, wielding wooden practice swords and surrounding the younger man in their midst. With thick dark hair, soft, appealing features and slightly tanned skin, Prince Gawyn was a handsome young man. Now shirtless in training, Sylvire couldn’t help but raise an amused eyebrow at a number of small groups of young girls, both noble and servant, watching on from the upper levels.
ImageAs Sylvire looked on, the prince launched once more into combat. Blocking a strike from the first knight to go on the offensive, he swiftly reversed the blow backwards and knocked the man off balance, allowing him to duck forwards and deliver a forceful blow to the man’s leg, sending him to the ground with a groan of pain as the wood smacked against his limb.
ImageAs the first man hit the floor, Gawyn was already turning. Flowing from combat form to combat form, the prince slid a second man’s strike off of his wooden shield and cut in to slam his sword across his stomach, before turning to surprise a third man, his shield punched into his forearm. The third man dropped his sword in pain, and was swiftly floor by a blow to his side. The final man, sensibly wary, kept his distance from Gawyn and attempted to lure the prince into striking first.
ImageGawyn didn’t disappoint, darting forwards with a thrust. But abruptly, he was no longer where the knight expected him to be, shifting sideways from the feint to spin his sword around into a solid blow to the man’s thigh, followed by a thrust into his stomach, winding him and knocking him to the floor. A brief silence that fell across the training yard was interrupted by giggling applause from the girls. The prince looked up at them slightly awkwardly and half-smiled, not really sure whether he really liked being the focus of their attention.
ImageIt was then that he noticed Sylvire, and his smile shifted to a full grin. Slotting his training sword into a stand, the prince made his way over with a wave. “Sylvire! It’s good to see you.”
ImageSylvire nodded her head, returning the smile. “And to see you, Gawyn. I’m impressed – last time I visited it was only three men you were teaching the meaning of swordsmanship.” She joked, laughing lightly.
ImageThe prince grinned broadly once again, “I can only strive to improve.” He said simply. “Will you be staying long, this time? I would love to pick up the lessons again – you’re a natural swordswoman, you know.”
ImageSylvire laughed, “You aren’t my first teacher, remember, though you are doubtless the best. But yes, I would like that. I can help you further your magical abilities too, if you wish.”
ImageGawyn nodded enthusiastically, “Sounds like a deal. But what is it you wanted to see me about?”
Image“We’ve reason to suspect that someone within your court is an operative for one of the cults we’ve been tracking in another kingdom. We don’t know who yet, but that’s what I’m here to try and find out. I don’t doubt that his plan is to try and take your life, and the axe.”
ImageGawyn frowned. “That’s not good. As far as news goes, the prospect of being murdered is generally not good. But I suppose that it’s better to know than to remain ignorant.” The prince murmured, before pausing and looking down at himself, still shirtless and glistening from training, “I should wash, but I’ll meet you in the dining hall for lunch? I’m sure father will be pleased to see you, too.”
ImageSylvire nodded, “I’ll see you there.” She agreed, and with a bow the prince was off. As Sylvire walked away, she couldn’t help but chuckle. The ire of the group of girls from above was practically tangible, bouncing off of the back of her head, for distracting their charming prince from them ...



Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twelve become one twelve can renew-“



Image“Can you make the shot?”
ImageIt was night; pitch black. Sylvire was crouched on the crest of a hill, staff lifted and ready to discharge a spell at a moment’s notice. Ahead, at the bottom of the hill, was a caravan of travellers. These weren’t any ordinary nomads, however. This was a caravan of more than slightly insane individuals – six men and women devoutly dedicated to the Sealed One. They were travelling to the site of his imprisonment on pilgrimage, with the intent of slaughtering the nearby village’s occupants as a sacrifice.
ImageSylvire didn’t know how Shaiel had learned of this; how she had chanced to investigate these people with the Beholder’s Spectacle, but the rogue mage was a suspicious person. Perhaps they had just looked at her oddly – which was understandable, really. She was a member of the Patronus, and they were worshippers of the Sealed One. It was a miracle they hadn’t attacked her on the spot.
ImageBut it wasn’t Shaiel who Sylvire had asked the question – though the shapeshifter was with them, in the form of an owl perched above on the branch of a tree.
ImageLuriel gave the sorceress a dry stare at her question, her face largely obscured beneath her cloak.
ImageSylvire shook her head, “Forget I asked.” She murmured. Of course Luriel could make the shot. Making shots was her job.
ImageA few moments passed, and the man who was on watch passed by the light of the campfire. The hiss of a bolt leaving a crossbow sounded to Sylvire’s side, followed by the dull thud of said bolt burying itself in the neck of the watchman. He slumped to the floor with a near noiseless gurgle.
Image“Move.” Luriel instructed.
ImageAs she and the assassin broke cover, Sylvire heard a fluttering of wings as Shaiel took off, swooping down toward the caravan. It took the two elves only a short time longer to reach the wagons, and they arrived as Shaiel was shifting back into human form.
ImageLuriel spoke again (positively blathering for her...). “Kill them quickly. Don’t let them make a sound.”
ImageSylvire nodded, and the three split up between the three caravans. Sylvire pulled the door of hers open with a slight creak, the sleeping form of the single woman occupying it curled in the corner. The sorceress stepped inside and held her hand over the chest of the woman. With a flash, she sent a single bolt of electricity straight into her heart. It stopped almost instantly, her eyes darting open and lips moving noiselessly for a second before she lay still.
ImageThe sorceress emerged back out into the night again to find Luriel already waiting for her, wiping her blades on the clothing of the fallen watchman. A few moments later, Shaiel stepped from her wagon and joined them.
Image“Let us go.” Sylvire said, and the other two nodded.
ImageGood grief it was awkward travelling with a pair of silent types...



Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twelve become one twelve can renew him, where twel-“



Image“Pere... Peregrin, are you frying bacon with the bracers?”
ImageSylvire stood in the doorway of Galeron’s senior common room, staring in disbelief at a rather abashed looking Peregrin standing holding a frying pan with sizzling bacon in, one glowing bracer held beneath the metal.
Image“...No..?” the half-celestial ventured, not-so-subtly moving the arm with the bracer on behind his back. “That is absolutely not what I am doing. Nope. Not at all. You must be seeing things.”
ImageAt that point, Sylvire put her hand to her forehead and sighed. Peregrin was an odd addition to the Patronus, in her mind – he was young; very young. Only seventeen years of age, the boy was, admittedly a child prodigy. His skill in fire and spirit magic easily matched her own skill in those fields after almost one thousand years, if not surpassed them. But the problem with him was that he was somewhat immature. He was well meaning, kind and a lovely boy, but frying bacon using his artefact was a rather illustrative example of his tendency toward being a little bit silly.
Image“I’m not going to press the issue.” Sylvire said, rolling her eyes finally and beckoning. “Come on, I’ve had the stable-hands ready you a horse.”
Image“A horse?” Peregrin began, but Sylvire interrupted.
Image“Yes, a horse. You can’t be flying, as that will draw attention, Which we don’t want, seeing as we’re going to a meeting in a secret location.”
Image“Aww...” Peregrin sighed, before shrugging. “Alright, alright. Lead on.”
ImageAs Sylvire left the room, Peregrin fell in step behind her. It was only after a few short moments that she paused, and turned.
Image“...and now you’re using them to feed yourself? Really? Good grief...”
Image“Mmmff!” Peregrin protested through a mouthful of bacon, the rest of the meat hovering on cushions of air beside him, the bracers glowing as ever.
ImageThe boy was lovely, but most certainly a little bit silly...



Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twelve become one twelve can renew him, where twelve become one twelve can-“




Image“Hold your arm still...”
ImageSylvire winced, her reflexes wanting her to pull her arm away from where Oron touched it, but her willpower keeping it in place.
Image“Hm.” The centaur pondered over the wound in the sorceress’ arm, running his hands along its length and feeling for damage. “As I thought. The bone is fragmented. Axes are notorious for causing bone damage even with glancing blows like this.”
ImageGrimacing, Sylvire looked up at the druid. “I suppose that means that you have to use the orb.”
ImageOron nodded. “I would much prefer to let it heal naturally, but you can’t be dealing with a broken arm for that long. At least the orb is better than normal magic; it knows what it’s doing, unlike many mages...”
ImageSylvire chuckled. Oron was very much a devotee of good-old-fashioned healing methods. Magic was for lesser healers, in his eye. Natural healing was much better for the body, apparently. It made sense, to be honest. Magical healing was highly demanding on it, so it was logical that overuse of it would cause some sort of long term damage.
ImageThe centaur produced a fist sized orb from his pouch, and held it close to the wounded arm, closing his eyes and focusing. The orb lit up, and a tendril of light shot from it to wrap around the wound. Sylvire gasped as her bone was shifted back and quickly reformed, and the gash in her arm disappeared within seconds. A few moments later and the orb dimmed again.
ImageThe sorceress shuddered with chill. It always felt unpleasant, magical healing. It was unnatural, and the body didn’t like it one bit. She had to agree with Oron that natural healing was better. The centaur was one of the few members of the Patronus that had been a member before she herself had joined. Since then most of the members she had first met had been replaced, apart from Selwyn, Arran and Oron. She respected Oron greatly, and alongside Selwyn he was one of her better friends amongst the Patronus. The druid was wise and knowledgeable, and had a gentle manner that was soothing in even the direst of situations. He had an air of invincibility about him, despite this, or perhaps even because of it.
ImageThere was perhaps also something of an appreciation for his choice of profession, as well. Healers were always well loved, and Oron was no different. Sylvire was very glad of his presence alongside Arran in the Patronus ranks. He’d saved her life more than once in the early days, when she had been severely lacking in experience ...




Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twelve become one twelve can renew him, where twelve become one twelve can des-“




ImageSylvire jerked awake with a start, sitting up in her bed and gasping. Such vivid dreams... memories. But all of them were of victories, or of pleasant times.
ImageSo why was her heart beating so fast? Why did she feel fear gripping her like a vice? Beside her, Seridur slept peacefully. All was well. Nothing was wrong. There was no reason for her to be afraid.
ImageShe hoped.

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Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twelve become one twelve can renew him, where twelve become one twelve can destr-“



Image“Wake up, Sylvire! Please, quickly!”
ImageSylvire blinked blearily as she felt a hand on her arm shaking her, and heard a voice urgently calling her name. As sleep faded from her eyes, the sorceress made out the figure of Selwyn standing over her. The blood elf was clearly distressed, and frequently glanced over her shoulder.
Image“Selwyn..? What is it? What are you doing here?” Sylvire asked, rubbing her eyes and sitting up. Beside her, Seridur was doing the same, frowning faintly at the intrusion.
Image“You need to dress quickly, both of you. The city has been attacked – it’s like they came from nowhere. Suddenly all around the city there was fighting, the guard have barely had a chance to react. It’s a massacre out there!”
ImageSylvire’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Attacked? But what by? Who by?”
ImageSelwyn shook her head, “There’s no time. I’ll explain to you on the way – you have an escape route, yes? You’ve mentioned it before, a way out that takes us away from the streets?”
ImageThe sorceress nodded, as adrenaline began to kick in and push back fatigue. Slipping out of bed, Sylvire grabbed her robes from her wardrobe and quickly slipped them on. On the bed, Seridur was still confused. “What’s going on, Sylvire?” he asked.
Image“We’re in danger – get dressed. I need to go and get Elias. When you’re ready lead Selwyn down to the cellar, quickly!” Sylvire instructed, taking her staff from its position against the wall and hurrying out of the room without a backward glance.
ImageAs she rushed along the corridor she passed one of her servants, who she gripped by the shoulder. “Run down to Carya, tell her to organise everyone and get them to the cellar. She’ll know what I’m talking about. Go, run!”
ImageThe frightened young girl nodded and ran, sprinting down towards the servant’s quarters. Sylvire herself reached the door to Elias’s room and pushed it open. “Elias! Wake up, sweetheart, we have to go.”
ImageThe young boy turned over in bed, blinking. “Huh..?” he murmured, as Sylvire crouched down beside his bed, stuffing a few clothes from his drawers into a bag. “Where’re we going? What time is it?”
Image“We’re going on a trip.” Sylvire said, “We can’t stay here anymore, it’s not safe. Can you get dressed for mummy, please? Quickly!”
ImageElias frowned, but reluctantly acquiesced, slipping out of bed and into his clothes. As soon as he was dressed, Sylvire grabbed her son’s hand and left the room, running towards the stairs. As they reached the top, a sudden echoing boom resonated through the house, and Sylvire’s breath caught.
ImageThat had come from the entrance hall – it sounded rather frighteningly like the doors being blown down. Elias opened his mouth to ask what was happening, but Sylvire hushed him and hurried down the stairs. As they passed through the ground levels, Sylvire caught sight of the battle spilling into her home in brief flashes. Passing a doorway she could see guardsmen and women battling strange, distorted creatures. At their head stood some construct of metal, crushing the guards with sweeps of a massive scythe-like weapon. Remaining unseen, Sylvire pulled Elias down towards the cellar, where Selwyn and Seridur were waiting.
ImagePanting, Sylvire released Elias’s hand for Seridur to take and made for the wine box to the back of the room. Prying the lid off, she twisted a bottle in the centre, and with a grinding of gears a section of the stone wall swung back to reveal a passageway. “Selwyn, take Seridur and Elias through. I’m going to wait here as long as I can for any others, but you get a head start!” she instructed.
ImageSelwyn nodded, and ignoring protests from Sylvire’s family ushered them into the passageway. Before long they disappeared around a corner, and Sylvire waited. The sounds of battle were drawing closer, and she was about to abandon hope when footsteps on the cellar stairs caught her attention. The sorceress lifted her staff, ready to defend herself, but the figures that appeared at the bottom of the steps were of Carya, and half a dozen other servants.
Image“This is all you’ll be saving tonight, Miss Nasazura, I tried to get to the others but it was too late.” The cook said, scowling. “May their souls go into the light, those creatures are horrific.”
ImageSylvire nodded. “With me then, quickly. I’ll close the door behind us.” The group made their way past her and into the passage, and Sylvire joined them moments later. Pulling the wall section closed and twisting the handle to prevent it from opening again from the other side, Sylvire let herself breathe.
ImageAurion had been right. She only prayed that the others would be so lucky.

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Meanwhile...

Image“Form up in ranks! Don’t let them get behind you!!”
ImagePrince Gawyn Tae’dorian stood at the back of a unit of soldiers, resplendent in his royal armour, the Axe of Power hefted on his shoulder. Sweat poured down the side of his face from exertion, and blood seeped from a gash across his side. The corpses of his men littered the corridor, where vases were smashed and tapestries torn from the walls.
ImageThe source of this carnage was clear to see, at the front of the tightly locked shield wall clashing with his men. Demons - twisted creatures of shadow, practically skewering themselves on the swords of the soldiers in their eagerness to bypass them. Eagerness to get to him.
ImageOnly minutes ago, Gawyn had been roused from his bed by the alarm sounding, and one of his guards rushing in through the door, sword doused in blood. Since then, his world had been a flurry of near death experiences and slaughter.
ImageThese creatures seemed to be endless in number, though. No matter how many the guards slew, more took their place. There was talk of a sorcerer commanding them from outside the palace, but Gawyn had no time to ponder on such things. He had to focus on staying alive.
Image“Gawyn!”
ImageThe sharp shout of a woman caught the prince’s ear, and he turned with a start to see an unexpected figure at the end of the corridor – Shaiel.
Image“Gawyn, you must come with me. If you stay here you will die, as will your family and men. As long as you are here they are at risk.” The mage called, approaching him quickly.
Image“What? You think if I flee, they will cease their assault? I hardly find these demons to be the type to relent so easily.” He replied, frowning. “I cannot abandon my men!”
Image“You must.” Shaiel repeated, “Or you will die, and the Axe will be lost. This cannot be so. Come with me, to Aurion’s stronghold. There we can regroup and lie low.”
ImageGawyn cursed, looking back to where his men fought wave after wave of demons. There seemed little hope of victory being won, the soldiers’ numbers were not infinite, but the demons’ seemed to be. “Very well.” He conceded, sighing.
ImageShaiel nodded and placed a hand on Gawyn’s arm. With a jerk, the prince felt his body altering, becoming less solid, and inky blackness began to swim over his form as he and the shadow mage sunk into the ground. Then Shaiel shadow-stepped and they were gone.

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ImagePanic was rife in the air tonight, as the shouts and clatters of battle disturbed the forest’s slumber. Merethyl Starfall let out a vicious grunt as she thrust her sword into the throat of a sickly twisted creature, and kicked it backwards with a spray of black blood. The thing sunk to the ground and seemed to dissolve into nothingness.
ImageAll around her, her fellow rangers fought more of the creatures. They were vastly outnumbered, but they were rangers. They were the most skilled warriors of the wood elf peoples, capable of slaying ten times their own number before they even knew they were under attack.
ImageBut this time the enemy had had the drop on them, rather than the other way around. The creatures had come from nowhere, dropping from the trees, rising from the ground as Merethyl’s hunting party walked through the forest. They had been unprepared, and half of their number had fallen in the first seconds of combat. Now they were fighting a losing battle.
Image“Fall back!” Merethyl shouted, “Retreat to the city! Disengage and use speed to your advantage, scatter!”
ImageWith a final slash across the chest of an attacker, Merethyl turned and ran. Around her, her fellows broke from the battle and sprinted away, over trees and through undergrowth as if across an open plain. None cold match a ranger’s speed in the forest.
ImageAs she broke through the brush, Merethyl kept her swords drawn and ready. The sounds of pursuit were clear behind her, and a quick turn of her head confirmed her fears. All of the enemies were pursuing her, and not the others. They were after the artefact.
ImageAn abrupt roar to her left elicited a cry from the ranger, as she was forced to throw herself to the side to avoid the grasp of a large creature that had appeared from the night without warning or signal of its approach, as if it had quite literally appeared from thin air. Merethyl rolled as she hit the ground, and backed up against a tree to face the enemy. More creatures rose from the ground to encircle her, and they began to close in.
ImageShe was already murmuring a final prayer, prepared to die, when a flash of bright light scattered the creatures. Something burst from the forest and slammed into the chest of the larger creature, and following it was the form of Oron. The centaur laid about himself with his staff, bursts of magic scything through the demons’ ranks and the forest itself twisting to impede them.
Image“Merethyl, quickly, they will not be stopped for long!” the druid shouted. The ranger didn’t need telling twice, and sheathing her swords to allow for greater speed, she broke into a dash and darted from the clearing. After a moment she heard Oron’s hooves thundering behind her, and the pair were joined by the object that had slammed into the large creature’s chest – namely, Kaelan. The half-fae elf nodded to her as he ran, and she returned the gesture. Black blood coated his sword, and she didn’t have to wonder who had come out on top in that little confrontation.
Image“We run to Aurion’s stronghold.” He said as they moved, “We have horses waiting to outrun them with.”
ImageMerethyl nodded, narrowing her eyes. So the time had come, and Aurion had not been being paranoid. She didn’t think that he’d be too pleased about being right, however... It wasn’t exactly an “I told you so” moment ...

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Image“What do you mean we have to leave? Didn’t we just have a meeting where most of us decided it wasn’t necessary?”
ImagePeregrin sat on the edge of his bed frowning and rubbing his eyes. Across from him, Arran stood at the window, looking out at the College courtyard warily. The entire building had been roused when Arran arrived with warnings of an attack, and guards and mages were patrolling the gates. The college wasn’t built to withstand assault, however, and Arran doubted that the Orsa would use the front door...
Image“We have new developments. Aurion detected a massive fluctuation in the Sealed One’s energies earlier today, much greater than we thought him capable of. It was directed to four notable locations – an area near to Amarathia, where Sylvire and Selwyn are at present; the forest where Merethyl and Oron are; Gawyn’s kingdom of Cordelia and an area near to here. The logical assumption is that an assault is planned on you, as your whereabouts is known.”
ImageThe half-celestial seemed less than pleased with this, scowling. “Guh, couldn’t they have waited till, like... tomorrow? I need my sleep...”
ImageThis is not the time for joking.” Arran scowled at Peregrin, “Your life is at risk, as is everyone’s in this building. Now we need to get out of here, do you have a bag packed?”
ImagePeregrin nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve done what Aurion told us.” He murmured, going to a drawer and picking out a backpack that was serving as his emergency-departure bag.
ImageArran nodded, “Then let’s get to the roof, we need to fl-“
ImageThe celestial was cut off from his speech by a sudden crash, and the entire building seemed to shudder. Screams and shouts began to fill the air, and Arran darted back to the window. The guards and mages outside were looking about in confusion, before one of them shouted something inaudible from here, and they began to run back towards the doors. But that meant...
Image“They’re inside!” Arran shouted, “We don’t have time to fly – this place has a portal chamber, yes?”
ImagePeregrin nodded, “But we aren’t sup-“
Image“This is the sort of time when I really couldn’t care less what people are and aren’t ‘supposed’ to do.” Arran interjected. “Come on, stay close to me!”
ImageThe two winged beings emerged from Peregrin’s room at a run, out into the corridor. “Which way?” Arran yelled, and Peregrin pointed towards a side corridor. “You take the lead!” he instructed, and the younger boy nodded.
ImageArran’s manner had apparently spurred Peregrin into full action, all jokes aside, and he was voiceless as they made their way through the corridors of the college and down stairs towards the portal room. A portal room was a room located in all of the magical institutes that were officially endorsed by the council of mages, and allowed for fast travel between them for senior faculty members. Or for quick evacuation for the Patronus, as it were.
ImageAs the pair rounded a corner, Peregrin abruptly skidded to a halt with a start. At the end of the corridor there was a scene of fighting – mages and soldiers were clashing with abominable creatures; black and twisted - all claws and teeth. Even as the two had arrived, the battle was clearly going against the men and women of the college, and the demons hit them in wave after wave until they were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of them. Then the creatures began to charge down the corridor towards the two Patronus.
Image“Get back!” Peregrin shouted, to Arran’s surprise, and the boy flung back his arms. The bracers began to glow bright gold, and fire gathered in the youth’s palms. The demons grew closer as he gathered power, and Arran was beginning to worry until with a cry, Peregrin threw his arms forwards.
ImageFrom his palms shot a torrent of flame that spread outwards and filled the entire corridor with searing hot fiery death. The demons were incinerated; the entire horde of them reduced to ashes, and as the magical fire cleared naught was left in the corridor but a black charring. Arran placed an arm on the panting Peregrin’s shoulder and nodded, and the boy turned. Once more, they made for the portal chamber.
ImageAs they approached the stairs that would lead them down to the room in question, Arran turned to ensure the corridor behind them was clear, just in time to witness a man tossed from around a corner slam into the wall at the end of the passage. A few seconds later a single figure stepped into view – a woman, clad in black armour and wielding a pair of curved swords. Her hair was white, and her skin dark – a dark elf.
ImageWith the celestial watching, a pair of college battlemages followed her around the corner, and as one they sent a powerful bolt of lightning searing towards her – enough to kill her within seconds. But, alarmingly, before the bolt struck her the woman was turning. Faster than Arran’s eyes could place, the elf had brought her blade down on the bolt, and with a crack of magical energies the bolt split and reflected back. It struck the mages in the chest, and both of them flew back, impacting the wall with a crunch.
ImageCursing, Arran turned back to Peregrin. “Go!” he hissed, urging the other down the stairway and following close behind. He slammed the door to the room behind them and slid the bolt across, but that wouldn’t hold for long against the likes of that woman. “Can you get the portal working?” he asked.
ImagePeregrin nodded, “But it only takes one person at a time! One of us will have to wait for it to recharge after the other goes.” He said, frowning with worry.
Image“We can deal with that when it comes to it, just get it working!” Arran urged. The boy nodded and made his way over to an orb in the centre of the room, placing his hand on it and directing magic into the glass. As it began to glow, he twisted it to the side, and when he released it, it flashed once.
ImageStepping back from the now glittering orb, Peregrin turned to Arran. “It’s ready!”
ImageA thud against the door drew both of the Patronus’ attention to the doorway, the wood buckling slightly as something impacted it. Arran cursed and made his way over to Peregrin, reaching into his cloak. “Here,” he said, pushing the rod into Peregrin’s hands, “Take this and go first. I’ll follow after.”
ImagePeregrin blinked, “But if you’re following, why are you-“ he began, but Arran cut him off.
Image“Just do it!” he hissed, pushing Peregrin’s hand down onto the orb and stepping back. When the boy still hesitated, the celestial scowled. ”Go!” he yelled.
ImageWith obvious reluctance, Peregrin nodded, and with a crack of magical energy he was gone. Arran sighed and walked to the wall of the room. The door let out another sickening crunch as it buckled inwards again, and Arran moved his hand to one of the statues at the side of the room.
ImageEach of them held a ceremonial weapon of some sort, and the celestial took down a battleaxe from the stone knight that he faced now. The orb in the centre of the room was glowing again, but he did not move to use it.
ImageBecause if he could, then so could she.
ImageThe door splintered.
ImageWith a cry, Arran charged forwards, hefting the axe over his head and bringing it down forcefully. The blade impacted the orb, and it shattered with what sounded akin to a roll of thunder, a shockwave of force knocking the celestial back and into the wall with a thud. Blood seeped from the back of his head as he lay there, and the sound of the door finally giving way reached his ears.
ImageBlackness danced in front of his eyes as he heard footsteps approach, looked up into the cold grey eyes of the dark elf witch.
ImageBlackness took him when her sword came down to meet his neck.

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ImageThe atmosphere over the room was heavy and oppressive. The ten men and women were sitting in near silence, some whispering hushed conversations.
ImageThe room itself was that of Aurion’s newly reclaimed citadel – previously just one of the Patronus’ more obscure and unused safehouses, this long-forgotten mountain fortress was in the midst of conversion to full time living quarters.
ImageIt had been several days since Sylvire, her husband and son, and Selwyn had arrived. Since then the other Patronus had slowly been arriving in dribs and drabs – first had been Gawyn and Shaiel, arriving on the same day as Sylvire herself, then Oron, Merethyl and Kaelan the next day. Mirana and Luriel had been present when the sorceress had arrived, the former in the midst of setting up a host of non-sentient undead to guard the fortress and the latter doing what she did best. Lurking.
ImageAurion too, had been present to welcome Sylvire grimly. He had sent the others who had joined him to set up the citadel – Shaiel, Kaelan and Arran – to go to the aid of the others who were at risk after he had detected the fluctuations of the Sealed One’s power. Luriel had been to go to Sylvire’s and Selwyn’s aid, but the assassin had managed to make her way to and from Amarathia in the space of time it had taken Sylvire to get there, after confirming that she had escaped herself.
ImageNow they waited for news from Peregrin and Arran. None of them voiced the fear that the two were lost, but it was a fear for all of them that weighed heavily on their thoughts.
ImageAnd so when Mirana’s head jolted upwards, and she announced “Something is approaching from the sky to the south!” the room became a flurry of activity.
ImageSylvire and Aurion were at the head of the group that made their way quickly through the citadel and out into the courtyard, where the speck that one of Mirana’s undead watchers had spotted was quickly becoming a shape, and from a shape becoming a figure.
ImageA figure.
ImagePeregrin’s form became more obvious as he neared, and the young mage descended towards the group erratically – clearly exhausted. He hit the ground at a run, stumbling forwards and almost falling as Sylvire quickly stepped forwards to catch him. The boy was in tears, clutching something to his chest, and as Sylvire lowered her gaze her breath caught.
ImageHe was holding the Sceptre. “He... he said he would follow me.” Peregrin was saying, exhaustion and guilt culminating in heavy sobs. Sylvire hugged the youth to her as a tear formed in her eyes.
ImageArran was dead. Beside them, Aurion cursed angrily and turned away, slamming a fist against the wall of the fortress.
ImageSorrow weighed heavily over the Patronus as they made their way back inside to tend to Peregrin. The first had fallen. The first of many...

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ImageArran’s death was a blow to the morale of the Patronus, and it was made obvious in the days that followed. Conversation was suppressed at best, and even Elias was quiet. The group did their best to carry on, and set about preparing the citadel to be defended.
ImageMirana continued to animate her army, but after a time she had to search so far afield for bodies to animate, even those of animals, Aurion requested that she stop so as not to draw attention to them from nearby villages. Still, the host of skeletal animals and soldiers was some degree of security, and would at the very least alert them to any approaches without need of having someone out in the cold air all the time.
ImageThe rooms of the citadel were sparsely furnished, but there were enough that everyone had a bed to sleep in and there was place to spend the days. Food was scarce, but Merethyl’s hunting skills were masterful, and there was enough to go around. In short, life was endurable, but by no means enjoyable.
ImageSylvire wondered how long they would have to live like this; in isolation, away from the eye of the Sealed One, relying on Aurion’s scrying for news of the outside world.
ImageThe cities and lands from which the Patronus had fled had been left standing – once they had departed, the demons faded away and their commanders disappeared into the night. Amarathia was the worst hit; uncertainty over whether Sylvire and Selwyn had truly left had continued for several hours afterwards, but eventually the demons had been purged by the sorcerers of the city.
ImageIt was slightly odd having Seridur and Elias with her alongside the Patronus, and Sylvire could tell that her husband was uneasy. But it had been the only way. Had Sylvire left them, there was no doubt the demons would have killed them. It was something of a comfort, at times, too – to be able to retreat to her family, and speak with her son, naively unaware of the scale of their problems.
ImageIt was on the fourth day of isolation that tensions began to run high. Sylvire was descending the stairs from her room when she came across Gawyn and Merethyl facing off in the corridor.
Image“Well I apologise if things aren’t quite up to your standards, your majesty!” Merethyl snapped angrily, glaring at the prince.
Image“Oh come now, I asked a simple question! Does that instantly make me spoilt?”
Image“You asked me if we would be having anything better to eat today! You think I go out there and find disgusting stringy animals for fun? We’re on the top of a light forsaken mountain, there are no cattle or sheep for you to feast upon in luxury!”
Image”That is enough!” Sylvire stepped between the arguing pair angrily, glaring between them. “Calm yourselves! Are we so petty that we cannot even last a week before we are at each other’s throats?”
ImageMerethyl glared back at Sylvire and turned with a scowl to walk away. Gawyn looked on the verge of apologising, but pride won over, and the prince too turned to walk away. Sylvire sighed heavily, watching the two stalk off.
Image“I think that we are perhaps under a lot of stress. Some of us handle it better than others.”
ImageSylvire turned to see Oron walking into the corridor from a nearby room, shaking his head. “It’s an undesirable side effect, but inevitably there will be conflict.”
ImageThe sorceress nodded. “You are right, of course. I’m sure that both parties will come around once they have spent time apart, and put things in perspective.”
Image“Indeed.” Oron said, nodding himself. “Now, come. Aurion wants to speak with you.”
ImageThat was the first of numerous arguments that riddled the Patronus over the course of the six days they spent isolated in the citadel.
ImageOn the seventh day, the news they had been dreading came.

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ImageSylvire was with Peregrin and Selwyn, looking after Elias, when Mirana pushed the door of the room open. An unusual urgency possessed the undead woman, and her expression was grave.
Image“There’s a group approaching the citadel.” She said simple, “And one of them resembles the dark elf woman Peregrin described.”
ImageSylvire’s breath caught, and she turned to see that Peregrin had paled where he sat. The sorceress rose, “Selwyn, with me. Peregrin, take Elias and find Seridur, stay with them at the back of the citadel.”
ImageThe boy nodded to her, obviously grateful that he didn’t have to face down Arran’s murderer, and took Elias’s hand. “C’mon, kid, let’s go find your dad.”
Image“Aw, but I wanna stay with mummy...” Elias protested.
Image“Mama has to go and see the others now, sweetheart, but I’ll be back soon. Go with Peregrin now, for me?” Sylvire said hastily, and reluctantly the child nodded. As the two disappeared down the corridor, Selwyn looked to Mirana.
Image“Do the others know?” she asked.
ImageThe warlock nodded, “Aurion is assembling everyone in the south tower.”
Image“Then why are we still here?” Selwyn exclaimed, making for the door. The three made haste through the citadel till they reached the stairs to the tower in question, and when they reached the top the others were already there.
ImageAurion nodded to them as they entered, and beckoned them over to the window. Sylvire joined the celestial and looked down at the mountain approach. Sure enough, a short distance from the fortress a group of figures was approaching. Keen elven eyesight picked out the familiar figure of the metallic construct she had seen back in Amarathia.
ImageIt was them. It was the Orsa.
Image“I think that they will use the same tactics as they used in their previous assaults. They obviously have the capability to call upon minions of the sealed one to swarm us from the inside, but hopefully the wards we have placed will hold. Failing that, we will have to try and lose them in the mountains.” Aurion turned to Sylvire “Can you give us some warning if-“
ImageIrony seemed to be prevalent in the air as Aurion was cut off by a rumbling. Turning back to the window, one of the figures approaching the fortress had lifted his hand into the air. A celestial, the man had a pair of resplendent black wings displayed upon his back, as his palm began to emit a shadowy blackness.
ImageSylvire felt a sudden jolt as her wards came under attack. Three of the figures had stepped forwards and were obviously focusing – those were her foes. She could see Selwyn struggling alongside her as both of their wards were assaulted by the three mages. At the same time, pressure was put on them by the celestial with the shadowy palm. While the three sorcerers attempted to dismantle the wards, he was trying to force them.
ImageThe sorceress became vaguely aware of activity around her as Aurion shouted commands. Merethyl and Luriel disappeared to the battlements with their bows, while Mirana made her way to the stairs up to the tower-top. Kaelan, Gawyn and Shaiel descended the stairs where they could be ready should the enemy reach inside, where close quarters fighters would be necessary. Oron and Aurion remained with her and Selwyn, watching on concernedly.
ImageBoth Sylvire and Selwyn knew that they were fighting a losing battle. They were outnumbered, and the taint of the sealed one was infecting their wards even as it pushed against them. “The wards are going to fail.” Sylvire managed to gasp, and Aurion cursed.
ImageBut abruptly, the pressure on the wards lessened. Sylvire looked up with a start as one of the three mages staggered backwards, clutching at his throat, with an arrow protruding from it. Sylvire didn’t know which of the two elves had made that shot, but she was grateful nonetheless.
ImageAs first blood was drawn, the virtual barrier between the two sides was dismissed. Three more of the group down below stepped up – the dark elf, the cloaked figure with the large bow, and a woman with long red hair – and lifted bows. As arrows started to fly between the fortress and the ground, Mirana had obviously reached the top of the tower, as from above a crackling bolt of lightning from the javelin shot down, tearing a path through the air to impact the ground where the dark elf had been standing before she dove aside.
ImageAnd then the wards failed.
ImageThere was no warning – until now, the battle had been relatively even between Sylvire and Selwyn and the mages below. But abruptly, something burst from the hand of the celestial, and shadow tore into the side of the fortress. Where it touched, the wards were severed like thread, and with the chain broken the two mages were able to tear the rest apart at the seams.
ImageChaos descended. In the middle of the room, a demon sprouted from the floor and launched itself at Sylvire, only to be cut down by a bolt of light from Aurion. The celestial yelled for the Patronus to regroup, as the Orsa surged forwards.
ImageA scream from outside drew Sylvire’s gaze to the doorway to the battlements, and a few moments later the two elves came into view. Luriel was supporting Merethyl, an arrow embedded in the wood elf’s side.
ImageAurion cursed. “Make your way downstairs!” he instructed, just as Mirana appeared on the stairs above, lashing out at a twisted ox-like shadow beast with the javelin. The group obeyed swiftly, and with Merethyl supported between Luriel and Selwyn they descended the stairs.
ImageOn the lower levels, all hell had broken loose. Mirana’s skeletal soldiers did battle with the demons across the courtyard that they emerged into, and the four who had descended earlier were slaying them in their masses.
Image“We must fall back!” Aurion shouted over the noise, as the fortress gates thudded with an impact. The metal construct was delivering blow after blow to the solid structure, and it wouldn’t be long before it broke through.
ImageSylvire caught sight of Shaiel tearing through a demon in spider form, pincers scything into the creature’s essence and laying it to the ground, only for a second to strike for her back. Gawyn intercepted the creature with a swing of the axe, however, and sent it flying across the open space to slam against the stone wall. A circle of flame marked the spot where Kaelan was battling surrounded by the things, the elemental shield’s magic protecting him from being drawn under.
ImageThe sheer volume of the creatures made disengaging seem a futile prospect, but Aurion seemed determined to enable it. Lifting his palm in a manner similar to the winged man outside, the celestial began to glow with a bright divine light.
ImageA few moments passed, as the demons turned to face him with anger in their eyes, the holy light abhorrent to their master and their given bodies, and then the courtyard erupted with blinding light. Sylvire shielded her eyes from the glow, and when she lowered her arm, the demons were reduced to ash.
Image“They won’t stay gone long. “Aurion said as he stepped forwards. “We must not lose the artefacts. If we simply flee, they will follow. We need to buy ourselves time to escape without being followed.” The celestial looked to Sylvire. “Sylvire, Oron, I want to you take Gawyn, Kaelan, Shaiel, Luriel and Merethyl and escape with Peregrin and the other two.” He turned from her to face Selwyn and Mirana. “Selwyn, Mirana... if you are willing, we will remain to buy them time to escape.”
ImageSylvire’s eyes widened, “You can’t be serious!” she protested, “If anyone should remain, it should be me-“
Image“No, Sylvire.” Selwyn shook her head, “Aurion is right. You have your family to protect. We three are old, and without many ties to this world. The younger ones need guidance.”
ImageMirana cackled, “Don’t cause a fuss, Sylvire. I’m already dead, and the other two have lived a dozen lifetimes even for their own kind. By our standards, you’re a child yourself! Run along and let the old have their way, for once.”
Image“I-“
Image“We don’t have time for this Sylvire, my decision is final.” Aurion said. “Take our artefacts, so that they might not be lost with us. If you live on, our sacrifice is worth it.”
ImageThe celestial unhooked the scabbard holding the Sword of Truth from his waist and handed it to Sylvire, who took it reluctantly. Mirana idly tossed the Javelin over to Kaelan, whilst Selwyn quietly handed the Swordsman’s Friend broach to Gawyn. Neither of the two men seemed happy to receive the artefacts, but Selwyn whispered a few words to Gawyn and the prince stepped down.
Image“I should remain with you.” He growled, “I would rather die now than run like a coward.”
ImageOron gripped Gawyn by the shoulder. “That is a fool’s talk. And you know it. Now come – before their sacrifice is made in vain. Help Merethyl onto my back.”
ImageAnd so Sylvire found herself leading the remaining Patronus away from the courtyard, without time even for a final farewell. Her last glimpse of the three who stayed behind was of them exchanging a final few words.
ImageAnd then they were back inside, and moving through the corridors. It took only a short time to reach the back room where Peregrin was waiting with Seridur and Elias. At the group’s approach, Peregrin rose.
Image“You’re okay! Are the Orsa go-“ he began, but Sylvire cut him off.
Image“No. We make for the mountains.” She said simply.
Image“But what about-“
Image“I said move!” she snapped.
ImagePeregrin moved. Seridur hefted a protesting Elias into his arms, and the party slipped out of the back of the citadel and further on up the mountains. The sound of the gates being blown off of their hinges resonated after them as they reached the edge of the hills, but Sylvire banished the thoughts of what was happening inside from her mind.
ImageSurvival. Survival was what mattered. The artefacts must not be lost.

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ImageAs Sylvire led the others away, Aurion let out a sigh, turning to face the weakening gate. “Let me say,” he began, glancing between the two women with him, “It is an honour to face my final moments with two such worthy allies.”
ImageMirana scoffed, “Come now, Aurion. You’re fighting with a corpse and a witch, that’s hardly the kind of company that your kind is fond of.” She teased, a grin upon her pale features.
ImageAurion managed a smile. “Well then, I suppose I am defying conventions by being decidedly fond of the both of you.”
ImagePlacing a hand on his arm, Selwyn nodded. “I think we are all ready to see the end of our lives. We have lived long enough to be satisfied.”
ImageAnd then the gates buckled inwards, and the hinges broke. The three scattered backwards away from the falling metal, Mirana’s last few remaining soldiers flowing into the courtyard to face the foes. The hulking metal construct faced them down, and from behind it stepped the rest of the Orsa.
ImageThere were eight alongside the construct, not counting the mage that Luriel’s arrow had already felled. First came the winged man, a half-celestial, his crossbreed nature shown by the blackness of his wings. Long blonde hair fell over a muscular form, unlike the normally light builds of his kind. Alongside him stepped the woman with flowing red hair, clad in golden armour and her flesh practically glowing with magic. The two mages remained near the back of the group, a dark elf with white hair and relatively pale skin, clad in oddly formal attire as well as an inhuman seeming creature with a mane of white hair, and what looked to be a demonic mask upon his face.
ImageThe dark elf witch stood alongside another woman, leather clad with a heavy cloak, holding a large sword and wearing a claw-like gauntlet, and the cloaked archer, little visible of him apart from his metal gauntlets. The final figure was a handsome man with long dark hair, wearing light armour and wielding a pair of wicked curved blades. The winged man glared at the three that stood before him balefully, before speaking.
Image“They do not hold the artefacts,” his voice was derisive and tinged with superiority, “Lyn, Roran, Koretta, take Golem and find the others. We will rejoin you after dealing with these three.”
ImageMirana cleared her throat and folded her arms, “Hey, hey. We aren’t just pests to be dealt with, you know. All high and mighty with your girly golden locks, maybe you ought to pay closer attention to your feet.”
ImageThe man fixed Mirana with his gaze. “Kill this one slowl-“ he began, before cutting off with a shout and jerking backwards. Attached to his foot was a skeletal snake, clamping down with its fangs scything through his boot. It was swiftly incinerated, but Mirana grinned.
Image“Told you so.” She said idly.
Image“Kill them!” the man barked.
ImageAt that moment Aurion struck. A bolt of light shot forth from his palm and towards the man, who reacted with a sweep of his fist, shadow emerging from it to meet the blast, the two attacks colliding and exploding outwards in a cloud of smoke.
ImageFrom the smoke a cascade of arcane bolts emerged, as Selwyn released her spell. One of them caught the finely dressed mage solidly in the chest, and the elf spiralled backwards to land with a crack, a gaping hole in his body. As swiftly as the smoke had arrived, it was gone, revealing the masked figure as he swept his arms up. Fire poured forth from them to meet a swiftly erected shield around the blood elf as the enemies’ leader beat his wings once to launch into the air. Aurion followed suit, and took the battle to the skies.
ImageMirana found herself facing off against the red-haired woman, and cracked her neck. “You’ll want to watch that hair darling.” The warlock said, “It might get caught on a sword.”
ImageThe woman smirked, “You’ll want to watch the hair too. It might get caught on your spine.”
ImageMirana barely had time to consider what she meant by that when the woman’s hair exploded outwards in a flash of light, spreading out and coursing towards her in a fiery spiral.
ImageSelwyn saw Mirana engulfed by the golden-armoured woman’s attack out of the corner of her eye and cursed. She had her hands full, however, with the masked fire wielder. Fire continued to pour from his hands and part upon her shield, and he showed no signs of relenting. Opting for a different tactic, the blood elf’s eyes flashed. From where she stood, an image formed of her diving to the side and darting around the courtyard. Following the movement, the masked man redirected his flames, not noticing the ‘second’ Selwyn still in the same spot. This gave her a window for attack, and she took it.
ImageThrusting her staff forwards, she sent an arcane bolt bursting outwards to strike him straight in the head. His mask split, and so did his skull, tumbling backwards in a mess of blood.
ImageBut then the demons began to return. Apparently, the winged man had renewed his efforts, and around the courtyard the creatures began to sprout out of the woodwork. Selwyn was quickly surrounded, and her fight became a whirlwind of magic, striking down creature after creature after creature. It was exhausting. So exhausting that she didn’t notice the archer at the gate slowly putting an arrow into his longbow, pulling back the string and aiming at her. So exhausting that when the arrow buried itself in her chest, and she was thrown backwards, it was almost a relief to feel her life fading from her. The pain was short lived, and the mage’s vision faded to darkness.
ImageSurrounded by fire, Mirana didn’t see Selwyn pulled under by demons. The warlock was having a hard enough time not burning to ashes, most of her magic taken up maintaining her form. Her robes had long since burned away as she struggled forwards against the torrent of flame, each step seeming to take an eternity. Her flesh began to charr and burn, and in places she was reduced entirely to bone. But she was moving, and each step brought her closer to the woman responsible for the fire.
ImageThe demons moving around her did not concern her – they could no more enter the fire than anyone, and so they did not impede her when she reached forwards and closed her hand around the woman’s neck. Blinded by her own fire, the woman didn’t see her coming until she was already squeezing her windpipe. Her fingers scythed through the woman’s skin as shadow magic surrounded them, and the fire faded as she went limp in Mirana’s grasp.
ImageEven as the horde of demons pulled her under Mirana was cackling her victory.
ImageAbove in the sky, Aurion and the dark winged man clashed with blow after blow. Evenly matched, the two celestials traded strikes for strikes, conceded wounds to wounds. Neither seemed to tire. It was only when Aurion risked a glance downwards that the battle turned.
ImageSeeing Mirana and Selwyn pulled down under a carpet of black creatures drove Aurion to the edge, and with a roar of fury he brought his palm up with full ferocity, breaking from the precise and skilful manoeuvres he had been employing, and divine light burst outwards. His fury caught the other man by surprise, and he was driven backwards, the strike burning across his chest.
ImageAurion lifted his hand to finish the battle, but a sudden flash of pain stopped him. The celestial glanced down at the arrow that was swiftly forming a crimson blossom on his chest as if in disbelief.
Image“It’s over.” The Orsa’s commander fixed Aurion’s eyes with his own. “The Patronus die today.”
ImageAnd then his sword fell, and Aurion dropped from the sky. His body hit the courtyard floor with a dull thud.

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ImageNight had fallen over the mountains, and the crackling of a small campfire was the only sound within the camp of the Patronus.
ImageSylvire was sat with Elias sleeping against her, her robes gathered around him to protect him from the cold. Her husband stood a few feet away, looking out over the mountains, lost in thought. Aside from the rest of the camp, Oron tended to Merethyl. The orb had healed her wound, but she had lost a lot of blood in the hasty flight from the citadel, and remained incredibly weak. Her armour had been replaced with a heavy cloak for warmth, and was stowed in Sylvire’s pack for safety. Peregrin sat alone, normal eagerness suppressed by the knowledge that the three who had remained behind were almost certainly dead by now. Kaelan too stood alone, but that was characteristic of him – he seldom voiced himself, used to the silence of a royal guard. Shaiel and Gawyn sat together a short distance away. Sylvire wondered whether there was something between the two. Before now she had not thought much of the fact that they often travelled together, but since their flight they had remained closer than ever.
ImageThey were an odd couple, a prince and a rogue, but it wouldn’t be the first time that such bonds had been formed within the Patronus.
ImageThe sorceress let out a deep sigh. She could not help but wonder whether those bonds would be tragically short lived.
ImageA light footfall caused Sylvire to look up with a start, but the figure that descended the hill at the edge of their makeshift camp was that of Luriel. The dark elf’s expression was even graver than usual.
Image“The golem is near.” She whispered, “I think I saw figures with it, but I couldn’t be sure.”
ImageSylvire cursed. How did the Orsa keep finding them? She supposed that in their haste to escape, and without Merethyl’s expertise, they had left a trail to be tracked. She gently shook Elias awake, leaving the blinking child to gather himself, and rose.
Image“We have to move on.” She said sadly, to a collective groan from the group. “The enemy is nearby.”
ImageDespite their fatigue, the Patronus moved quickly. The fire was extinguished and the wood and stones that formed it scattered. Gawyn helped Oron lift Merethyl onto his back, the wood elf stirring enough to hold onto the centaur’s waist to avoid falling. Within a few minutes, they were on the move.
ImageThe way was treacherous – particularly as they had needed to abandon the path to avoid their route being blatantly obvious – and the night made it more so. The mountain was filled with ridges to drop from and fall to your death, and when you could not see more than a few feet ahead it was like one big death trap. But they could not risk a light, in case the Orsa caught sight of them.
Image“Wait.”
ImageLuriel’s voice cut through the silence, and the group paused to look to her.
Image“I think I hear-“
ImageBut she didn’t need to finish her sentence. The pebble that Luriel had heard rolling dropped from above them and landed with a clack at the front of the group. A pause of a few moments followed in utter silence.
ImageAnd then a figure dropped out of the sky. Blade wreathed in shadow, the leather clad woman landed in the Patronus’ midst out of nowhere. The large sword swung upwards, and cleaved through the metal of Kaelan’s armour like it was paper. A splatter of blood and the half elf fell to the ground. Sylvire didn’t need to check to know that he was dead.
ImageWith a roar of anger, Gawyn charged forwards. Hefting the axe, he swung it around towards the woman, who darted backwards and away. The weapon cleaved through the rock of the mountain, scattering earth and stone, passing inches from her chest.
ImageBut Luriel was already there to meet her, and the assailant barely had time to bring her sword in to deflect the assassin’s dagger. The woman was fast, but Luriel was faster, and a kick to her midriff sent her stumbling backwards toward the edge of the ridge.
ImageShe regained her balance quickly, though, and held her sword aloft as if in challenge to the dark elf. Luriel didn’t take the challenge up. Instead, she calmly reached into her cloak, swept out the boomstick and pulled the trigger. A cascade of flame and magma burst outwards in a cone of fiery death, enveloping the woman and toppling her backwards off of the mountain’s edge. Wreathed in flame, she fell out of sight, limp.
ImageSylvire hurried to crouch beside Kaelan, but he was beyond saving. His front had been cleaved open in its entirety. It was with a heavy hand that Sylvire lifted the Elemental Shield and the Hunter’s Javelin from his grasp, whispering a prayer to the light.
Image“We can’t stay to grieve.” She croaked, stowing the javelin away at her hip. “We must keep going.”
Image“Mummy..?” Elias’s voice from where Seridur held him was frightened. “I’m scared.”
Image“We all are, Elias, sweetheart.” Sylvire said, wiping a tear from her eye, “But we have to be brave for the world.”
ImageLeaving Kaelan’s body, the group moved on with haste. It did not escape them that their pursuers would know where they were – the Vulcan’s Boomstick was not exactly subtle – and as such they hoped to outpace them.
ImageBut after only a few minutes, a cry from behind them caused Sylvire to turn. Oron was knelt down, face twisted in pain. “Oron!” she exclaimed, running over, “What’s wrong?”
Image“My leg.” The centaur cursed, “I am not built for narrow mountain ridges, not at all.”
ImageSylvire held out a hand, “Give me the orb, I’ll use it to heal you.”
ImageOron nodded, and passed the artefact over. With a brief glow, a tendril of light moved into Oron’s leg and the bone shifted, where it had given and broken it was restored. The centaur unsteadily rose to his feet.
ImageFrom his back, Merethyl murmured, “I can walk from here.” She said, “If I’m down from your back, you’ll be less likely to fall.”
ImageNobody protested – it was beyond the time for pandering to people, if she said she could walk then she could walk – and the wood elf slid off of Oron’s back. But the fall had cost them precious minutes, and the thudding of the golem’s feet was audible in the distance.
ImageSylvire cursed, and turned to go onwards, but Oron put a hand upon her shoulder. “Keep the orb.” He said, “I can’t keep up the pace that you need to maintain if you are to escape. I’ll only slow you down. Us centaurs can’t handle this terrain, sadly.”
Image“I can’t just leave you here!” Sylvire protested, but the druid nodded his head, smiling.
Image“Of course you can. Now go, you have to protect the others. My life is unimportant. The safety of the artefacts is paramount.”
ImageSylvire was about to protest again, but Luriel’s hand on her arm cut her off. “We have to go.” The dark elf hissed, and reluctantly the sorceress stepped back from Oron and turned to follow after the group.
ImageContinuing their descent, the group began to near the other side of the mountain range – a forest at its base their destination, from which they could find cover and decide on their plan of action. Fatigue was heavy on them all now. Suddenly, Merethyl gave a shout, and pointed upwards.

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ImageOron stood with a heavy heart, facing the narrow trail that led up the mountain. His staff was hefted, and he was ready to face the approaching Orsa with pride. The metal construct came into view first, followed by the others – the dark elf and the long-haired warrior. It seemed that the others had been delayed by Aurion and the others who had remained behind, or perhaps slain. Oron almost fancied his chances.
ImageLifting his staff, the centaur narrowed his eyes at the approaching group, and extended his arm. From the edge of the weapon shot a beam of bright white light, coursing through the air towards them. Reacting quickly at the sight of the attack, the dark elf darted forwards in front of the construct, and her swords flashed downwards.
ImageOron gasped as his own attack was reflected back at him, the magical energies shooting through him and forcing him backwards, his staff falling to the ground. Disoriented, his vision blurred, and he had little time to register the golem-like construct closing on him.
ImageHe had little time to register its weapon catching him on the flank and scything a gash in his flesh. Little time to register the blood leaving his body as he toppled over the edge of the cliff face, and his vision faded completely into the dark embrace of death.

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ImageSylvire followed the ranger’s gaze upwards, and her heart constricted. A shape was falling from above. As it passed them, bouncing off of the cliff edge overhead, Sylvire turned away. She could not bear to watch as Oron fell past. After several long moments frozen by shock, the group unsteadily began to move again, all but Luriel visibly shaken by the passing of the druid, but after only a few steps Peregrin let out a sob and dropped to his knees.
ImageThe sorceress moved to place a hand on his shoulder as tears ran down the boy’s face and he buried his head in his hands. “I just want it to be over...” he whispered, “I can’t bear it any more. So much... death.”
Image“Stay strong, Peregrin.” Sylvire whispered, hugging the boy, “Don’t let their sacrifices be in vain. We have to survive so that their lives were well spent.” Tears ran down her own face as she spoke, but she suppressed them, buried her sorrow under steel. Lifting Peregrin to his feet, she guided him back into motion, though he continued to weep, and once more they were moving.
ImageTime seemed to blur as they continued to trudge down the mountain path. Sylvire couldn’t tell if they were walking for minutes or for hours, determined to stay ahead of their pursuers, but eventually they reached a wider area of flat rock jutting out from the cliff face.
ImageThe sorceress walked to the edge to gaze out across the land, the vague shape of a city in the distance. She frowned, trying to figure out which city it was, mentally cycling through the cities that were near to mountainous regions and eliminating those that were too far from the citadel.
ImageWith a shock, she realised that it was her home. Amarathia. Perhaps they could find refuge there, and help to defeat the Orsa. They should never have gone into hiding – somehow the enemy could track them wherever they went ...
Image?”
ImageThe sorceress turned to face Merethyl. The ranger had a concerned frown on her face, and Sylvire blinked. “What is it, Merethyl?”
Image around. Where can we go from here?”
ImageSylvire did as instructed, and her heart sunk. The makeshift trail down the mountain seemed to end here. There was a narrow ledge leading away from this plateau, but nothing that could serve as a pathway down. But surely there was a way? Perhaps she could use her magic to carry them down – but no, she couldn’t carry all of them by a long shot.
ImageIf she had intended to ponder further on the predicament, Luriel’s shout prevented it.
Image“They’re coming!” the dark elf barked, and now that Sylvire listened, she too could hear. The metal footsteps of the construct betrayed the Orsa’s approach, and Sylvire cursed. “Elias, Seridur, get behind us!” she instructed.
Image“Patronus, form up! We’re backed into a corner, but I’ll be damned if we die here today!”
ImageAs the sounds of the construct drew closer, the group readied themselves. They were fatigued, and weak, but they were determined, and their artefacts were powerful.
ImageWhen the construct broke into view, the chaos of battle descended once more. The dark elf shot forwards like a bullet, aiming to strike at the group before they had a chance to respond, but with a flashing of blades Luriel met her in the middle ground. The two dark elves moved like a whirlwind of death, blades clashing and ringing with the clang of metal on metal. Their movements were almost impossible to track, but Sylvire couldn’t afford to try.
ImageThe construct was closing in on them, and Sylvire lifted her staff. A bolt of lightning coursed outwards from it, and impacted straight into its chest. The thing reeled backwards for a moment, but seemed otherwise unaffected. With renewed anger, it resumed its charge.
ImageSylvire’s attention was drawn for a moment by a cry to her right. The long haired warrior had dropped down from the rigid cliff face and into a roll, and in a fluid movement his sword swung upwards at Merethyl. The ranger met the weapon with her own sword, but she had been taken by surprise, and the force of the blow drove her backwards.
ImageBackwards, where there was no backwards to be driven to. The ranger’s eyes widened as she felt her foot step out onto nothingness, and a piercing scream escaped her throat as she fell backwards, disappearing from sight.
ImageSylvire cried out as Merethyl fell, cursing in horror, as did Gawyn. The prince charged forwards at the warrior responsible, and swung the axe for him. As if as part of a dance, the warrior leapt up and over the swing, darting to the side and cutting his sword across Gawyn’s side. The prince’s armour deflected the majority of the blow, but he was winded and doubled over.
ImageThe warrior was set to lift his sword and deliver the finishing blow, when a tendril of shadow wrapped around his wrist. Turning with a scowl, the man followed it to its source – Shaiel. The woman jerked her hand downwards, and the tendril pulled him to the side, away from the recovering Gawyn.
ImageAs Shaiel distracted the attention of the warrior, Sylvire was forced to return her attention to the metal construct making a beeline for the group. Extending her hand once again, Sylvire jerked it upwards, a spike of earth jutting up from the ground towards its chest. The rock shattered as it met the creature, and Sylvire cursed.
ImageAt that point, however, a torrent of flame shot from behind her and impacted the golem, forcing it backwards with its sheer intensity. Sylvire turned to see Peregrin, bracers alight and face screwed up in focus. The construct seemed to be undamaged, but the fire was at least keeping it at bay.
ImageA cry once more redirected Sylvire’s attention, however, and she turned to see Shaiel in combat with the warrior. The man had broken free from her shadow, and the mage was being pushed back, his sword scything through her attempts to strike him back. With a swing, she brought her staff up and managed to catch him in the stomach with a slash of magical shadow – but despite the attack creating a sizable gash in his flesh, he didn’t pause.
ImageAs Shaiel stepped backwards to try and use the expected flinch to put distance between them, the man pressed forwards. She hastily attempted to block his strike with her staff, but he was within her range, and it was too late. Sylvire shot out a hand to release a lightning bolt at him, but likewise...
Image...it was too late. The sword plunged into Shaiel’s chest, running her through, and even as the bolt struck the man in the side and slammed him into the cliff face, she dropped to the floor. Both she and her assailer were dead.
ImageDespair sunk into Sylvire as yet another of her companions fell to the Orsa. They each took their toll on the enemy, but at what cost? Their lives.
Image“Sylvire!”
ImagePeregrin’s shout caused Sylvire to turn to him. “I can’t keep this up for much longer,” he gasped, the flames pouring from his hands starting to falter.
ImageBefore Sylvire could reply, a roar of anguish came from her side. Gawyn had recovered from the strike, and seen Shaiel’s corpse. The axe in his grip lit up brightly as its full power flowed into his body, feeding on his rage and fuelling it. The prince launched himself forwards at the golem, and leapt into the air.
ImagePeregrin hardly had time to stop his assault before Gawyn flew straight into it, bringing the axe down with a roar on the construct’s head. The axe carved into the metal like a knife into butter, and scythed straight through it. When Gawyn hit the floor, the golem split down the middle, and dropped. Panting, the prince’s grip on the axe remained rigidly tight, but with a deep breath, he released it. The weapon’s glow faded as it clattered onto the floor, and Gawyn’s rage started to fade.
ImageAn eerie silence fell over the plateau. Luriel was wiping her sword on the dead witch’s cloak, blood seeping from the dark elf’s throat where Luriel had drawn her blade across it. Gawyn and Peregrin were on the floor, Peregrin collapsed with exhaustion and Gawyn bent over with sorrow. The prince made his way over to where Shaiel’s body lay, and wept for her.
ImageSeridur held a trembling Elias close to him behind Sylvire, and the sorceress wondered why no tears fell from her eyes, this time. Another two of her allies had fallen, and she could find no more outward expression of sorrow. Her heart ached like never before, but she had no more tears to cry.
ImageStill, the artefacts were safe. Still the fight had to be continued.
ImageBut Sylvire’s thoughts echoed Perigrin’s earlier words...
ImageSo much death. Why couldn’t it all just end?

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ImageIn the end, the remainder of the group had set up camp on that plateau for the rest of the night. The prospect of carrying on at that point was too much for anyone aside from Luriel to consider. Of the twelve, only four remained.
ImageThe morning came, and they had achieved little in the way of sleep. The ground was hard, and the cold harsh. The scars of battle still made themselves known there, too – blood stains on the floor, and gashes in the rock, even if they had disposed of the bodies. Those of the Orsa they had tipped over the side of the cliff. Shaiel’s they had buried with the aid of Sylvire’s magic.
ImageSylvire rose to her feet with a sigh as the sun broke. She had made no attempt to sleep. The events of the previous day weighed too heavily on her mind. Around her, the others began to stir. Peregrin and Gawyn – obviously having not spelt themselves – looked up practically as soon as she stood. Luriel was sitting on a rock some way back up the path, having taken it upon herself to act as watch the whole night. Sylvire had to wonder how the assassin held back her fatigue.
ImageElias and Seridur stirred when she placed a hand on her husband’s arm. They were the only two who had slept, it seemed, perhaps due to the fact that they had not the ties to the fallen that the Patronus members had. Sylvire couldn’t help but wonder if they would have been better off if she had not returned to them before. Being subject to this flight was taxing on the two - that much was obvious.
ImageThere was little discussion as they prepared to depart for the morning. They went without food – there was no hunting to be done on the side of a mountain, and set about finding a way down. Eventually they settled for edging along the cliff face, Sylvire using her earth magic to widen the ledges so that they could stand on them. It was an uncomfortable and dangerous route, and so Sylvire sent Peregrin ahead with Elias to meet them at the bottom – the half-celestial could fly the child down, as he was light, but would be unable to do so for the others.
ImageThe descent was taxing and dragged on seemingly for an eternity. Every slip gave Sylvire a minor heart attack, whether it was herself, her husband, or Gawyn. Luriel, of course, never slipped. She could not take losing another friend to something as simple as a slip.
ImageHours later, they reached a part of the cliff where it widened, and they could continue without pressing themselves to the rock surface. After that, the speed of travel increased. They reached the base of the cliff by the afternoon, where they found Peregrin and Elias. The latter was sleeping again, the former gazing off into the depths of the forest. Any hint of childishness had faded from Peregrin over the course of the last few days, and now he had a harrowed look about him. He hadn’t smiled since Arran’s death.
Image“We must decide where it is best to go next.” Sylvire said after they had rested from their Cliffside exertions. The group was a ramshackle mess – clothes dirtied, caked with mud and dried blood, haggard with exhaustion.
Image“As far as we know, six of the Orsa remain alive.” She said, “This may be less, but we cannot afford to assume that the others were able to slay them. We have tried going into hiding, and it did not work. We have tried remaining scattered, and it did not work. We must stay together and find sanctuary, either somewhere that the Orsa cannot reach or somewhere that can defend us. The nearest city to us is my home, Amarathia. There we may find somewhere to gather ourselves at least temporarily.”
ImageLuriel nodded. “The city is strong. If it is not caught off guard, it may survive an assault.” She affirmed.
ImageSeridur sighed. “I’ll just be glad to see civilisation again, and be able to rest.”
Image“We all will.” Sylvire said, nodding her head. “We should get going.”

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ImageSeveral miles overhead, footsteps sounded on the plateau where the recent battle had taken place. A winged figure stepped to its edge and scowled, glaring out at the forest. Behind him, a dark haired archer knelt to examine the ground.
Image“They fought here.” The man said, “The Patronus were the victors, but they lost some of their number. I believe that only the prince, the sorceress and the child remain. Them and the sorceress’ family.”
ImageThe winged man nodded. “I have underestimated the resourcefulness of these so called heroes. I had thought them grown lax in their long time of peace. Their leader chose well ... a pity that they must all die. They would better serve our lord converted.”
ImageA humourless laugh came from the archer. “You never know. Perhaps both can be achieved.”
ImageSmirking, the Orsa’s commander nodded. “Perhaps you are right. But they have a head start on us – we need to keep moving.”

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ImageIt was late in the day by the time the haggard group of Patronus broke from the forest and onto the plain that separated the trees from the city of Amarathia. Scratches, bruises and cuts had been added to the already wretched looking group, and they practically staggered out into the open.
ImageAll were exhausted, and even Luriel was beginning to show it. Peregrin practically collapsed onto the grass at the prospect of a break, and Gawyn slumped down onto a rock, resting his head in his hands. Seridur sank to the ground, setting Elias down, and let out a deep sigh.
ImageSylvire herself leant heavily upon her staff, the tangled knots of her hair falling over her eyes, caked with mud. Soon, she thought. Soon they would be able to rest in the city. That must keep them going.
Image“We ought not to stop here.” Sylvire said, “We’d be better off continuing till we reach the city. Then we can truly rest.”
ImagePeregrin let out a groan, dragging a hand through his hair, but he pulled himself to his feet. “Alright, then.” He murmured, and with similar murmurs of reluctant agreement the group trudged onwards. As they progressed across the plains, they remained grimly silent. Eventually reaching the main road toward the city, Sylvire decided that it was too late to worry about being followed easily, and that the ease of travel was the utmost priority.
ImageAs luck would have it, after only a few minutes on the road, the trundling of a cart became audible, and Sylvire turned to see a farmer travelling down the road to bring his wares to market in the city. As he approached them, however, his eyes widened in recognition.
Image“By the light!” he exclaimed, reigning his horses to a halt, “Lady Nasazura! And Prince Gawyn... what in the name of the light..?”
ImageThe man was clearly shocked to see the resplendent Patronus in such a state, and truth be told Sylvire did not blame him. But she had no time to explain. “Please, sir. Might we ride in your cart? We have walked far, and we need to reach the city as quickly as we can.” She appealed.
Image“B- but of course! It would be an honour to serve, my Lady!” the man stammered, hastily jumping down and shoving around his produce to create space for them. As one by one they staggered onto the cart, the man looked to Sylvire. “May I ask what has you so harrowed, my lady?”
ImageThe sorceress shook her head. “The less you know the better, good man. Please, just take us.”
ImageReluctantly the farmer nodded, and climbed back up. With a crack of the whip, the cart resumed motion. Sylvire leant back against the wood of the vehicle and sighed heavily. Every muscle in her body ached, every heartstring she had had been plucked to exertion.
ImageShe felt empty.
Image“Sylvire?”
ImageBlinking, Sylvire looked to the source of the voice. Peregrin was pointing down the road, and with dread the sorceress followed his hand. A cloud of dust was visible back on the plains. As Sylvire narrowed her eyes at it, she could make out a figure at its head, the dust being kicked up as he ran at shocking speeds after them.
ImageCursing, Sylvire looked to the oblivious farmer. “We need to go faster!” she shouted, “We are being pursued!”
ImageWith a start, the farmer turned around to look behind himself, and followed Sylvire’s gesture. His eyes widened with fear, and he cracked the whip again, shouting to the horses to move. The ride of the wagon became rough as it thundered over the road, but still the figure was gaining.
ImageThen a figure stepped past Sylvire, and before she could even shout, Luriel had jumped down from the cart. The dark elf rolled as she hit the ground, and even as she rose up a crossbow pistol was in her hand. The bolt shot forth towards the approaching figure, missing him by a few inches.
ImageSylvire glanced down at the floor of the wagon, and saw that Luriel had left the boomstick behind. A precaution. Nothing more than a precaution, Sylvire reassured herself.
ImageLuriel fired off a second shot from her crossbow, it too missing the rapidly zigzagging man, before discarding the weapon. As he neared, the man pulled from his back a large bow, and seemingly without trouble despite his speed, nocked an arrow to it. Luriel did not wait around for him to aim. Darting forwards, she began to close on him as quickly as he ran toward her, drawing her sword and dagger.
ImageThe distance narrowed quickly as the two sprinted, before in a moment they crossed over. If you blinked, you would have missed it. Each slowed to a halt a short distance from the crossing point, panting.
ImageWith a groan, the archer sank to the ground, blood seeping from the wound in his chest, sword and dagger of the assassin plunged straight through his chest and still embedded there. He slumped, and lay still. Luriel herself turned back to face the disappearing cart, a small smirk on her face.
ImageAnd then she fell. The arrow in her stomach snapped as she hit the ground.
ImageSylvire clenched her fist as Luriel fell to the archer’s arrow, her breath escaping her lips. Peregrin buried his face in his arms and tucked his knees to his chest. Gawyn placed an arm over the younger boy’s shoulders to offer comfort, but it was clear the prince was at the edge too.
ImageElias clung on to Sylvire as she sat there, and she put an arm around her son sadly. “I wanna go home.” He whispered.
Image“We’re going home, sweetheart.” Sylvire replied softly, “In a sense.”
ImageThe cart thundered between Amarathia’s gates, drawing attention from the crowds as it skidded to a halt inside. As it did so, Sylvire stepped down from the cart and shouted to the nearest guard.
Image“Alert the council and the guard captains! The city will be under attack before long, as it was before! The Patronus require sanctuary, those of us that still live, and may the light have mercy on the ruler who denies us in our time of need...”

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ImageSylvire stood in the courtyard of the high council’s palace with her eyes toward the sky. The sorceress had a new set of robes, and was recuperated after a night’s rest. It seemed the Orsa had relented the chase for the night, perhaps to ready themselves for attacking the city.
ImageStanding in the light, Sylvire and her two companions seemed the embodiment of the Patronus. At her hip was the Sword Of Truth, sheathed but resplendent nonetheless, and the Vulcan’s Boomstick. Around her neck was the Beholder’s Spectacle and the amulet that contained the Haywire Gem. The Orb of Restoration was clutched in one hand, and her staff in the other.
ImageTo her right stood Gawyn, his armour restored to its former shimmering glory, and the Axe of Power hefted on his shoulder. The Hunter’s Javelin was strapped to his back, and his cloak was fastened with the Swordsman’s Friend broach. To her left was Peregrin, his youthful features marred with the eyes of one who has seen enough death for a lifetime. His arms were, as ever, adorned with the Elemental Bracers, and in his hands he clutched the Sceptre of Judgement and the Elemental Shield. Only Nature’s Guardian remained in Sylvire’s bag – the armour still fitted to Merethyl, it would not reshape itself until it was bestowed to a new owner.
ImageTogether, they were the last of the Patronus. If they survived, there would be time to renew the order, but it would never be the same. It had been Aurion who had the touch, and knew who to choose, who could lift the weight of the world on their shoulders and bear it.
ImageNow they were forced to do just that. Their friends lay scattered across a mountain range, and their enemies were drawing close. There was a tension that hung over the three that meant that even their admirers kept their distance.
Image“Mama!” Sylvire was snapped from her reverie by the call of Elias, running across the courtyard to her. Her husband followed behind as she knelt down to embrace the child. “Is everything gonna be okay now, mama? It’s safe here again, isn’t it?”
ImageSylvire sighed. “I don’t know, sweetheart. I don’t know.”
ImageTime passed. The day drifted onwards, and still no attack came. The guards remained on alert, as did the sorcerers, but as afternoon went on into evening, unease and restlessness had replaced stoic determination.
ImageThe entire world seemed to hold its breath, waiting.
ImageAnd then with a shout, the moment came. A dark shape seemed to form in the lower quarters of the city, and a message came from the guards that demons had begun to pour forth into the streets. Gawyn stepped forwards towards the gates leading down into the lower city, but Sylvire caught his arm.
Image“We cannot afford to risk ourselves.” Sylvire said simply, “We hold the keys to the Sealed One’s prison. If we fall, the world falls.”
ImageAs minutes passed, unease settled over the group gathered in the courtyard. Then the news came.
Image“They’ve taken the lower city! There are so many of them, it’s like a flood! You can’t see the ground for the sheer volume!”
ImageSylvire cursed. It would be just as it was before. The city would be overwhelmed by seemingly infinite hordes of demons unless the commanders showed themselves. So they must be forced into the open.
Image“Peregrin,” Sylvire said, turning to the boy. “Can I have the Sceptre for a moment?”
ImageNodding, the winged youth handed the rod over, and Sylvire held it in hand for a moment, before she extended her arm upwards. A beam of bright light shot forth into the sky like a beacon – a beacon that screamed to the Orsa a challenge.
ImageIf they wanted the artefacts, then they would have to get them themselves. The gates were barred, and the demons seemed unable to pass. The wards on the walls were strong, and there were no mages to tear them down now.
ImageA roll of thunder echoed across the sky as the light faded.
ImageLike a meteor, their foe descended. A burning ball of fire shot down from the sky, carving through the clouds with a trail of flames blazing behind it. The guards scattered as the fireball neared the ground, and Sylvire shielded her eyes as it hit the ground with a forceful shockwave, blowing her robes out behind her.
ImageWhen the smoke cleared, a single figure stood in the crater. The winged man, blonde hair flowing out behind him, his wings spread out.
Image“Surrender, Sorceress. I slew your leader, you will fall before me like grass blades.” He intoned, one arm extended towards them.
Image“I do not fear you.” Sylvire hissed.
Image“So be it.” The man said, smirking, “But before we fight, I have some old acquaintances that I want you to say hello to. I get the impression that you have met before.”
ImageLifting his hand, the man began to emit shadows from his form, eyes lighting up.
ImageA cry of anger drew Sylvire’s attention away from the man momentarily, however, as Gawyn lifted the axe. “I don’t know what he’s doing, but I don’t intend to let him finish.” The prince growled, before charging forwards.
ImageHe closed the distance between himself and the man with a few long strides, and the axe scythed around in a wide arc.
ImageIt impacted the Orsa commander’s neck with a spray of blood, the flesh and bone making little resistance for the powerful weapon. He slumped to the ground with his hand still held high in a mockery of life.
ImageSilence fell on the courtyard.
Image“D... did we win?” Peregrin whispered.
ImageAny answer Sylvire might have had was not to come, as the earth beneath their feet began to tremble. The headless corpse of the winged man began to shudder and jerk, shadows seeping around it and enveloping it. Gawyn stepped back from the pool of blackness and quickly rejoined the other two, all eyes on what was happening with the man’s corpse.
ImageSlowly, the man began to pull himself to his feet. A sick laugh came from where shadows were building up were his head had been, and as they cleared the man’s features were once again discernable in the mass of pure blackness. “My master renews me.” He hissed. “It is ever so rude to interrupt people. I believe I was in the middle of something.”
ImageAround the man, three patches of blackness formed in the ground, and from each of them a figure began to rise. Pulling themselves from the ground, the figures climbed to their feet, and Sylvire’s breath caught in her throat.
ImageThere before them stood, in a mockery of life, shadowy replicas of Arran, Mirana and Selwyn.
ImageBehind them, the similarly shadowy revived man laughed. “I see you remember my friends here. They look ever so much more fitting in their new roles, don’t they? Now, it’s time for you to join them... Kill them!”
ImageWith the man’s shout, the figures leapt into attack. “Don’t hesitate!” Sylvlre yelled to her companions, “They aren’t who they seem!”
ImageAnd then they were in battle. Sylvire lifted her staff to erect a shield swiftly to intercept a flash of arcane lightning that seared from the mock-Selwyn’s own staff, stepping backwards at the force.
ImageTo her sides, Peregrin took to the air, followed by the mock of Arran, and Gawyn dived aside from a bolt of lightning Mirana’s replica sent toward him.
ImageThe battle with the images was as harrowing a battle as Sylvire could remember. Every blow that the mock Selwyn directed towards her was within the blood elf’s own arsenal of powers. Aside from the aura of shadow that surrounded her, it was truly as if her friend had turned on her from the grave. But it was Peregrin who she pitied the most. Arran had been Peregrin’s closest friend amongst the Patronus, much as Selwyn was to her, but the two had been closer still than she and the other mage. Peregrin’s eager manner combined with Arran’s eternally cheerful nature made for a perfect match, and the two had been practically fastened at the hip.
ImageNow fighting a replica of his closest friend in the sky, Sylvire did not doubt the torment that the poor boy was undergoing.
ImageThe battle seemed to be going in Gawyn’s favour, by contrast to Sylvire’s stalemate and the veritable game of cat and mouse that Peregrin’s battle had become – darting around to avoid the powerful blasts of black energy that the shadow-Arran sent toward him, seldom given a chance (or having the resolve faced with the image with his friend) to return fire.
ImageThe prince had had no special ties to Mirana, although like all of the Patronus the bonds of duty had brought them closer than mere allies, and was able to see the replica for what it was. And so it was only a short time into the battle that the axe met the shadowy replica’s form, and it was cast back to the ground from which it came.
ImageTo Sylvire’s horror, however, even as Gawyn was regaining his bearings, the winged man struck at him. A torrent of flame seared outwards from his extended fist and swallowed the prince before he had chance to react, even to activate the Swordsman’s Friend that might have saved him.
ImageWhen the fire faded, Gawyn was on the ground, charred and blackened. Sylvire cried out in horror at seeing the young man fall, and in a rage, lashed out. A blast of powerful arcane energy burst from her and straight towards the shadow-Selwyn, impacting the creature and blasting it to pieces. She rushed to her fallen ally’s side in time to grasp his hand, fumbling from the orb of restoration. But already he had gone limp. Already it was too late.
ImageCursing, Sylvire rose to her feet again and cast her eyes about for the man responsible. But he was nowhere to be seen. That was more than slightly worrying.
ImageA cry from above snapped Sylvire back to the battle that still continued, and she looked up in time to see Peregrin tumbling backwards. A glancing hit from the replica’s attack had hit the boy, and his face was wracked with pain. Angrily, the sorceress lifted her staff upwards and discharged a bolt of light up. Not expecting the assault from below, her attack took the image of Arran by surprise, and as quickly as it had formed it was swallowed by the blast.
ImageBreathing heavily, Sylvire knelt back down by Gawyn’s body. Fresh tears began to form in her eyes, but she pushed them down. He had been so young – not even reaching the end of his twenties. But she could not afford such thoughts as she haltingly retrieved the artefacts from his body. The broach, the javelin and the axe. She tucked the javelin under her belt, and the broach into her pouch. The axe she gripped in her hand not occupied by her staff.
ImageRising, she turned to find Peregrin. The boy was crouched in a heap a few feet away, and Sylvire hurried over. The boy was weeping once again, and the sorceress pressed her hand to his cheek, her staff laid down for a moment. “Come on. I know a place we can go to.” She whispered. Helping Peregrin to his feet as he nodded through his tears, Sylvire turned and ushered him towards the exit of the courtyard. The guards in the area had long since been slain, and the streets were deserted. Many of the citizens had started to flee the city when the attack began, or were trapped in the lower levels.
ImageSylvire had no time to worry for them.
ImageThe pair of surviving Patronus ran through the empty city streets at a sprint, Sylvire leading the way. As they emerged out into the square where their destination lay, Sylvire wondered if they really would make it.
ImageThe Library’s doors stood open and untouched. If only they could reach it...
Image“Sorceress.”
ImageSylvire’s breath caught as the voice of the winged man echoed across the square. They had reached the base of the Library’s steps, and she turned to face its source. Her eyes widened in horror when she did so.
ImageWhere the Orsa leader stood, he held two figures in shadowy bindings. Seridur and Elias. Her husband and son.
Image“Give me the artefacts, and I will let them live.”
Image“No!” It was Seridur’s voice that spoke, “Don’t do it, Sylvire. You have to ... you have to go. If he gets the artefacts, we’ll die anyway. He won’t spare us!”
Image“Silence!!” barked the man, and the bindings around the elven man tightened, constricting his throat.
ImageSylvire was about to speak, when another voice cut her off.
Image“Mummy!”
ImageSylvire’s heart wrenched in her chest, and her eyes went to Elias. The boy looked back at her with wide, frightened eyes. “Help me! Get him! Help!”
ImageWords failed to form as Sylvire’s mouth opened and closed, and the winged man narrowed his eyes. “I see you need a little encouragement.” He hissed.
ImageIn one movement, the man drew from his hip a sword and swung it around. The blade was plunged into Seridur’s back and blossomed out from his chest in a single thrust, and Sylvire screamed.
ImageThe elf slumped to the ground lifelessly, and Elias struggled helplessly at his bonds. “Daddy! Daddy!” he wailed.
ImageRage clouded Sylvire’s vision, suppressed anger and sorrow at the death of all those she held close to her pouring out in one cry of pure hatred. She hefted her staff, and from it coursed a beam of light that blinded even her, filling the square with a light as bright as any sun, and searing towards the man.
ImageAs it met his form, the man was swallowed into it, writhing and twisting, until with a shockwave of force he was tossed backwards into a building. He slumped to the ground, unmoving, and the shackles that bound Elias faded.
ImageThe boy ran forwards, and Sylvire clambered down the steps with haste to meet him. “Elias!” she cried, eyes flowing with tears, reaching out a hand to gather her son into her arms and--
ImageWith a shriek, Sylvire was thrown backwards as the ground before her erupted with pure blackness. An echoing laugh resonated across the square, and demons began to pour in from the surrounding streets. The sorceress scrambled to her feet and cast around desperately for Elias, but the boy was gone. “Elias? Elias?!” Sylvire screamed. Then arms were around her and pulling her back, back towards the library.
ImageIt was Peregrin, she realised, fighting back tears of his own and pleading with her. “We have to go! We have to go!” he was shouting. And he was right.
ImageThe pair reached the top of the stairs ahead of the horde, and Sylvire put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Can you hold them back while I create the seal?” she panted, and Peregrin nodded.
ImageStepping back from the entrance, Sylvire began to cast her magic out to grip the magic that was within the doorway. Dormant but present, it would only take a minute or so for her to activate the seal that would separate her and Peregrin off from the city’s physical self entirely.
ImageAs the demons began to pour up the steps, Peregrin narrowed his eyes. Channeling his magic through the bracers, the boy’s arms lit up with bright golden light, and from him poured forth a searing spiral of heat and flame that engulfed the horde in its incinerating heat. The demons were turned to ash as they ran, and when the fire faded naught was left but a black coating on the steps. But already another wave were moving to replace them. The boy lifted the Sceptre then, and swept it across in a destructive line, sending beam after beam of divine power scything through the creatures and slaying them in their dozens.
ImageThe boy’s heart sunk, however, when he saw the figure of the winged man start to twitch. Slumped against the building to the far side of the square the man was once more enveloped by shadow. His form jerked to its feet, more shadow than man, and staggered forwards.
Image“I have it!” Sylvire cried behind him, even as the winged man was extending his arm. “Get inside!” she cried.
ImagePeregrin backed away from the stairway and slowly past the doorway, still sending attacks into the horde of demons that poured towards them, and Sylvire gripped the doors with her magic and started to pull them closed.
ImageAcross the square, the winged man’s face twisted in rage. An inhuman roar escaped his mouth, and his hand lifted. From his palm burst forth a ray of blackness, searing through the air and towards the narrowing gap.
ImageSylvire’s eyes widened as the attack shot towards them, and attempted to slam the doors closed on the spell before it could reach them. The beam reached the doors seconds before they closed, and shot past Sylvire into the room, missing her by a whisker’s breadth. An echoing boom resonated through the Library as the doors closed, and Sylvire dropped to her knees, panting.
ImageThey were safe.
ImageOr so she thought. A groan from behind her caused the sorceress to turn, and she cried out as she saw Peregrin strewn across the floor in a twisted heap. The ray of darkness had missed her, but felled him.
ImageDragging herself toward the boy, Sylvire knelt beside him and pulled him onto her lap. She groped inside her cloak for the Orb of Restoration, whispering softly to him. “Don’t die. Don’t give up. I’ve got you, I’ve got you...”
ImagePressing the cool surface of the Orb to Peregrin’s mangled chest, she willed it into power, and it began to glow brightly. But no white tendril emerged from it to heal him. Nothing happened.
ImageBecause the boy was already dead.
ImageTears fell freely from Sylvire’s eyes as she knelt there in the Library entrance, clutching Peregrin’s body to her and sobbing.
ImageThe artefacts were safe. The world was safe. But the Patronus were dead. Her husband was dead. Her son was dead.
ImageWhat world was worth living in, alone? Because Sylvire truly was alone, here in this magical library. Cut off from the physical world by a seal that was her only protection from the minions of the Sealed One, the very thing that protected her would be the thing that forced her solitude.
ImageEventually Sylvire moved from Peregrin’s side and pulled herself into the Library proper. Some supplies for the Library’s staff (long since fled) were stored in some cupboards, but nothing like enough to sustain her. And so over the next few days Sylvire spent her time researching. She learnt the spells to create links between worlds, between this isolated world of books and cavernous spaces and that of other people – places she could acquire food.
ImageIt was a week after the fall of Amarathia that Sylvire created the link to the monastery a short distance from Wing City. Of course, at that point Wing City did not exist, though the monastery was still a ruin. She buried Peregrin behind the building, and planted a flowerbed there that survives to the present day through devoted maintenance.
ImageWeeks became months, which became years, which became millennia.
ImageAll spent alone. The duties of the Patronus were one and one alone. Guard the artefacts, keep them safe, no matter what.
ImageIt was only when the Orsa came to these lands that Sylvire would venture out into the open once more, as it was only a matter of time otherwise until they would discover her.
ImageThe war never ended. The war would follow her wherever she went, and claim the lives of whoever she touched. This was why she could never afford to give into her emotions. This was why duty had to come above all else.
ImageThe war had followed her here, and this time, Sylvire would win.



Darkness. A voice rasps; “Where twelve become one twelve can release him, where twelve become one twelve can renew him, where twelve become one... twelve can destroy him...“



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