"A roaring fire might have ignited with a single spark, but it would take many twigs to sustain its flames." - Initiation 3:11 (From Litany of the Saints, Absolutist holy text) Makara 12th, 359 D Downtown Meusing (pop. 95,000), Dao Regency Cloudy overcast, 12°C/53°F That morning was sunless one. Like a typical Hellas morning, the shores fogged up with drops of moisture. But when it was nine hours past midnight, it did not clear. Typically, spring in Meusing meant slow mornings for everyone. The Daonese, and other folks that lived and passed by the port city walked slow and relaxed; though their bodies left the comforts of their blankets, their thoughts remained asleep. But by midday, all the hustle and bustle would pick up. This was when the sun normally broke through the mists, casting its rays on the Martians, urging them about their daily businesses. The fourth day of this year’s Makara was different. The fog lingered past eleven in the morning, and when it finally dissipated around twelve, massive grey clouds replaced it. On the streets, the houses and the market, people of Dao felt different too. The regular care-free mood was absent; as soon as the night passed, people were up and about, marching nervously and anxiously through the roads. Though one man’s routine never changed; Tong the Seer settled into his seat, in the market square, six am sharp. This man, who lost his sights a decade ago, carefully strutted around his stall. Sniffing the fog like he did every morning, Tong took two extra laps today. At quarter past six, he returned to his chair. “A northerly wind blows!” Tong shouted to anyone caring to listen. To an outsider, this feeble old hunchback exemplified lunatics. Who in their right mind heeded words from a crazy fool? Visitors often asked. The locals would frown at such questions, no citizen of Meusing would doubt Tong, for he never made a wrong prediction. On the night before, Edwong Gradura dreamt of 354, when he first arrived in Meusing. So much have changed in those five years; a typical ruler disposed, replaced by a supposed champion of justice. This city, one that was founded a colony turned to the heart of a proud, independent nation, now stood on the verge of another change. Edwong witnessed it first-hand, he fought in Khein Qinchowua’s campaigns of conquest; he saw kings brought to their knees, he saw cities burned in flames and he saw people bled under blades of steel. Patayia was a particularly bloody battle; eight month ago, the Patayians fought to the last soldier. It started as what Khein predicted to be “a simple show of force”, but no plans survive contact with the enemy. On three fateful days, more than a thousand Daonese soldiers, militiamen and mercenaries died. While on the opposing side, three thousand Patayians were cut down, half of them civilians. So when sudden door knocks reached Edwong’s ears, a dream-mural consisted of Paeng’s whip, a dead Patayian boy and captain Rej impaled on a mamophant tusk was still fresh in the young priest’s mind. Reluctantly, and somewhat bitterly, Edwong reached for his curtains to let in some lights. Unlike most people, Edwong slept in his tunic and trousers, all he needed for the morning was his boots. “Gradura, open up!” Whoever it was, the voice sounded urgent. Therefore, Edwong crossed the small room that held nothing but a bed, writing desk and a chair, in two quick strides. “What is it?” Edwong’s voice was raspy when his door unlocked, he needed some water if he was to talk properly. But the man standing across the doorway showed no sympathy, his stern face, highlighted by the grey priest robe, turned into a annoyed frown. Ah right, Edwong remembered, father Breck hated people interrupting his morning prayer, which means… “Ten minutes, Gradura.” Breck craoked and walked away as quickly as he came. Ten minutes, like yesterday and two more days before that, Edwong slept through his breakfast again. Shaking the nightmare away from his head, the still groggy Edwong slumped down his chair and took a long swig from the leftover in his cup. The water felt smoothly refreshing inside his throat, it calmed him for the time being but leaving him wanting more. “Tellus’ tits,” Edwong muttered. The thought of Breck hearing the curse and his inevitable reaction brought a faint smile to Edwong’s lips. However, the empty cup in his hand and flurries of footstep outside of his door turned his smile to a frown. With little water and no food, it was going to be a long morning. “- and we shall carry forward with Gaia’s blessings,” the monotone prayers droned on. In the last fifteen minutes, Edwong couldn’t do much beside gazing blankly towards the altar. For whatever reason, arch-priestess Lusia was absent this week, which meant Breck was in charge instead. When the shuffling of feet interrupted the previous minute of silence, Edwong breathed a shallow sigh of relief. “I thought we were done,” seeing Breck approach him once again, Edwong couldn’t have been more frustrated. “Our holy duty will be done once we return to Gaia’s embrace,” Breck preached and pointed a finger at Edwong. “Whether you deserve that embrace is another question. But that’s not a question for me to answer, I am simply here for your task today.” “My task? From you?” Edwong defended and crossed his arms; the last few days were relatively peaceful, it was indeed sometime since he was approached specifically. “Shouldn’t this be from the arch-priestess? Where is she anyways?” “It was from a faithful citizen,” Breck corrected. He raised his eyebrows at Edwong’s questions, but only responded by shoving a small envelope into his arm. “See to it immediately.” “An odd omen occurred only last week,” out of Breck’s sight, Edwong quietly ripped open the seal and read to himself in a whisper. “The saberwolf packs became increasingly aggressive; four sheeps were found dead yesterday. We wish for your graces’ blessing to aid us through these difficult times.” “Eddy, what is that?” came a inquisitive hail from behind. Turning around, Edwong found Lizzel Hils, one of the few he called friends, standing at his left. The young woman shifted closer to Edwong, her eyes darting to the parchment in his hands. “Ah Liz; nothing important.” Edwong cleared his throat. He instinctively stuffed the paper into his pocket; but under Lizzel’s concerned gaze, he read out rest of the contents. “Blessing the masses, that’s a first for you.” Lizzel jested and padded Edwong’s shoulder in a mocking manner. But unlike their normal routines, Edwong did not smile. “Come on Eddy, Tam betted twenty pounds for this not to happen, don’t let me down now.” “Shit, I’m just tired.” Edwong sighed. “That and not having anything for breakfast.” “Worry you not, I’ve got you covered.” Reaching into her bag, Lizzel produced a half loaf of bread. Without hesitation, Edwong immediately snatched the bread and started taking greedy bites. “Whoa, always prepared aren’t you?” After swallowing the last mouthful of toast, Edwong finally felt a bit less groggy. “Wonder how they’ll get you with your trial.” “I’m sure they’ll find something in two weeks,” Lizzel remarked. “It’s a busy world out there.” By the time Edwong reached the city gate, midday was already approaching. On his way there, Edwong could feel people’s uneasiness. There was a small group of angry folks outside of the regent’s palace, a brawl between competing merchants in the marketplace and beggars camped outside of the shipping guild. However, Meusing proper was nothing compared to what happens around its gates. About a dozen meters ahead of him, Edwong saw two rugged adventurers led by a brute-like woman. The woman, who was arguing with a pair of city guards, proceeded to strike the guardsman square in his jaw, knocking him on the ground. At that instance, seven more guards poured out of a nearby building. The woman and her companions managed to punch out four of the eight remaining guard, before finally being restrained and led away. Relieved for the incident to end, Edwong only managed an inch forward before the gate was blocked by a giant mamophant pulled carriage. The carriage driver, someone with a thick Hesperian accent, made several offensive gestures at the guards blocking his way. “Visitor, your vehicle is too large for city clearance.” The leading guard, a masked man, argued. “Ποια είναι η έννοια της αυτό!?” Speaking in Comlang, the driver threw up his hands when no one seemed to understand him. People nearing his carriage shouted at him to move, to which the driver responded in broken Creole before doing the same to the guard. “Pass me now, I from the circus.” “How about you move that carriage out of people’s way first, then we can sort this fuss out.” the guardsman ordered. Seeing no other choice, the carriage driver dismounted from his mamophant, opening the busy gateway once again. “I am sorry, there’s nothing more I can do.” after talking to a small farming hub not far from the city, Edwong blessed the crowd and their local chapel. There were roughly thirty-some agrarian households in this cluster, with varying patches of grass holding oxen and goats, all surrounding a under-repaired chapel. “If the wolves keep coming back, I would talk to the regiments.” “But you know they won’t help us,” an elderly woman, whose face was wrinkled and clothing tattered from decades of farm work, led the farmers’ pleads. “There’s got to more than that, you of all people should know.” “But I don’t,” Edwong began to slowly back away from the gathering. Some of the people were just off the fields, and they still had their farming tools ready. This frightened Edwong, for these tools could easily be turned as weapons against him. “If this is Gaia’s test, then all you can do is endure it.” Now nearing the last of row of houses, Edwong noticed four farmers still followed, their pitchforks in hands. From their faces, they were clearly frustrated with Edwong. To bad, he thought. If they thought hurting him was the solution, they picked the wrong day. “That’s it boy!?” one farmer approached, tip of pitchfork nearing Edwong’s chest. “You temple bunch preach all day, asking us for obedience. Yet now, none of you can solve the problems you claim to.” “We’re done here, get out of my way.” “Not a fucking chance kid,” the farmer, now within two meters of Edwong, swung the shaft of his pitchfork. However, Edwong saw the strike coming from body expression. His left hand grabbed the center of the handle, while his right hand twisted the pitchfork near its tip, yanking the tool from its previous owner. “Its over, go back to your homes.” gesturing with the pitchfork in hand, Edwong made several thrusts towards the remaining farmers. Though still unsatisfied, they grudgingly backed away. It was almost six in the afternoon when Edwong returned to Meusing. The sunset was setting on Hellas, late afternoon rays glazing the water surface in warm orange glows. After a foggy morning, cloudy afternoon, the sun finally broke through around five pm. However, most of the city’s day activities were drawing to a close. Dominant traffic near the gates were now outbound, and many daytime merchants have already left their stalls, leaving only locked chests and storage barrels. On his way through the city, Edwong noticed a couple dressed in finery arguing with a guardswoman. He heard them complain about some thieves who stole their bags. Looking around the corners shadowed by sunset, Edwong was glad he suffered no such incidents. To be honest, he knew this city fairly well at this point; which included potentials spots criminals would frequent. The opera house definitely was not such a place. With the night drawing near, evening shows were now brewing in the large granite hall, with its gate packed with wealthy lords and ladies. On an alley adjacent to the opera, Edwong saw a familiar face. The carriage driver had not only managed to pass the checkpoint, but somehow also managed to move his oversized mamophant and a two-story-high carriage in as well. Grumbles in his stomach reminded Edwong that he only had half a bread today. Breck’s orders were clear, he had to return as soon as possible. But Edwong felt he had favored Breck enough today. Instead, he turned to the waterfront district, where the Rim’na, a triple-level inn, shone between dull warehouses. It was a long and trying day for Edwong, and he cared little for how crowded or lively the tavern was. Without hesitation, he walked through the double door and sat himself at the nearest empty table.