“The spell of war is finished. Five hundred years have passed, and there has only been peace. I will not have it falter in the wake of this minor problem. Summon members from the Army—talented ones, but expendable. Send them to take care of the problem.” “What if the problem is—“ “Especially if the problem comes from the other Immortals. They’ve outlived their usefulness.” “That’s a suicide mission.” “Hah! Then they will live up to their name.” CITADEL:: 578AU:: DUSK:: 30TH DAY OF FALL The day isn’t bright or warm, but it’s very loud. The Citadel is filled to the brim with people. Their bodies choke the artery-like streets. Moving through them is near impossible. Yet, the ebb and flow of the crowd seemed constant. It’s overcast with a chill in the air, but people don’t notice. Nothing could dampen Unification Day. It was the anniversary of when the wars stopped and the Immortals rose to power. While none of the Immortals have been seen in years, there are still caricatures drawn onto paper and tied to wooden sticks. Children grab them, placing them over their face and pretending to be the great Generals. They dart between the legs of bystanders. There are numerous Exis’s. They are mixed in with a few Anons and Arselles. An occasional Markus pops up, exclaiming about being the smartest out of all of them. Sol and Gob are never seen. Actually, many believe the vendors don’t even fiddle with the representations of the Corpse King. “He’s not a hero for children,” they would say. The celebration moved forward, into the heart of the city. There the crowds gathered underneath the Floating City, a massive body of land tethered to the ground by massive chains. Everyone knew Exis lived there. No one had any hopes of seeing him. It was mainly where the fireworks would ignite from. Yet, that’s not where the Army was summoned. They would move against the flow of the crowd towards the edges of the Citadel. Remnants of an old city still pocked the newer architecture. It was unknown why it still remained and wasn’t built over like much of the Citadel. Maybe it hadn’t been seen yet by the city’s officials or maybe it was something more than that. One such monument was an old church. Most theology was dead now, but the ruins of it could be found everywhere. The walls around it were high and the gates were locked—or should have been. The old iron wrought structure was slightly opened. The path beyond it was impeded on by snarling foliage left uncheck for many years. The doors of the church were fully open, allowing what little light that escaped the clouds to shine in. Inside were numerous pews. They were disarrayed and invaded the central walkway with no pattern or reasoning. One would have to maneuver around them to get to the podium in the front. It was massive and made of stone. There was a golden symbol inlaid into it. Whatever god it used to represent no longer had any bearing. The symbol was pretty but not much else. A man stood behind the podium. He had his elbow propped up and his head rested in his hand. His other hand was busy holding a book, the title was emblazoned in gold “The Livery Maiden and the Dishonored Knight.” The author was Sten Revna. The man’s mouth moved as his eyes scanned the words. He broke into a smile and looked up—still no one there. “They should call it Army of Tardiness, not Army of the Dead,” he said, grumbling. He was not a tall man, average in height and stature. He wore dark robes with gold and green embroidery on them. His skin was a deep blue-gray, his eyes black except for a pale blue iris. His ears were pointed and made far more noticeable by the short way he wore his dark hair. His age was not discernable. He looked like a groundborne but not much else. His tale flicked on either side of the podium like a metronome as he read. A deep rumble punctuated the igniting of the fireworks. That was when the members of the Army were supposed to meet at the old church. “Hm,” he said. “Maybe I’m a little ahead of schedule.” He closed his book and laid it flat against the podium. He grabbed the basket by his feet and carried it to the closest pew. He looked over its contents. It was a bundle of scrolls, one for each person on this mission. He knew what was written inside. It was a Royal Writ, giving the individual who carried it the power to pretty much do whatever they wanted on the High King’s orders. The man frowned. He didn’t like such grand sweeps of power, but he wasn’t the High King. He was just a messenger and a liaison for the Rat King. Nothing special. He, personally, was not a part of the Army. He was nothing more than a counselor, making sure that the power wasn’t overly abused. Couldn’t have cities burning just for the sake of it. There was a rattle and then a smooth gust of air poured through the church. The man narrowed his eyes. He could feel it, a presence. He stretched out with this magic trying to figure out what it was, but the feeling was slippery like trying to hold onto water. He didn’t know any of the members of the Army to have such power. They were powerful, yes, but there was a substance to them. This was… not right. “Aravak,” he cursed in groundborne. They’d been compromised. From the sweeping shadows of the church, a creature solidified itself from the darkness. It had the head of a crow, with four eyes on either side of its black beak. Its body was that of a black dire wolf. It set its gaze towards the man. He took a step back. It was between him and the exit. The creature leapt, the man dodged to the right and scrambled underneath the pew. The creature landed and turned, loping towards the pew and landing on top of it. Its massive claws swatted at the man. He was squeezed himself away from the creature’s grasp. “They better hurry,” he said.