CHAPTER 1 The Ghoul Whisper Esteemed colleagues, My name is Galain Medwick, a sage of Barvelle. I write to you from the Guilder's Library of the Black City, at the southern border of Pegulis. I do not have long. With my companions I am bound on an errand for the Northern Archon. I dare say it is a task that will decide the very fate of our fledgling nation. A weapon has been found, from the age before the ice. And though this artifact will surely bring turmoil to our borders, know that it is not the first. In every corner of Sunne divine weapons are being uncovered. The dust of the Cataclysm settles, and treasures beyond imagining glitter. Our enemies in Kaustir and Viridos will move for these weapons. Be sure of that, as you are sure of all mortal greed. Yet heed my further warning, brothers and sisters: there is a greater threat from within. Of the expedition that set out from Barvelle, only a handful remain. We have lost many, to plague and exposure, to monsters beyond our comprehension. We are being hunted, by a figure half-seen in the snow behind us, by a creature who tracks our every move and walks with ancient power. A wizard in white, a sorcerer of ice and cruelty. In the Guilder's Library I have scoured the books and learned of him. I have found his name. The Ghoul Sage. Look to the east, Pegulis. You will see the storms he has conjured and the plagues he has wrought. Look to the west and you will see the shadow of his golems, his servants of bone and magic. And look to Barvelle, our secret city in the north, and know what has transpired there. A white dragon, massive and starving, has been brought down in the ice. By the genius of the Northern Archon we slew the beast, but in horror learned that it was summoned there by the Ghoul Sage himself. I beseech you, watch the borders. Watch the mountains and the plains. For he is coming. The Ghoul Sage holds the reins of nightmare, and casts a shadow on us all. * * * * * * Medwick stepped from the library archway, and into the deluge, the doors shut quickly after him by black robed menials. His time was up. The hospitality of the Guild had expired and he was expelled into the streets. Pulling tight his robe, the mage tucked an object in his pocket - a shard of eldritch wood, snapped from the staff of the Ghoul Sage. It was how the battle had ended in the Norsigal Mountains, where first he encountered that white wizard. His sword had severed the staff and banished the Ghoul Sage in a whirl of ice. Now, with the bruising on his shoulder, it was all Medwick had left to remind him of that battle. That, and the memory of his comrades slaughtered. Friends cut down by golems, stricken with plague or crushed by ice. The attack had been brutal, but the warning clear. The Ghoul Sage had sworn destruction on Pegulis. Crossing a cobbled square through hammering rain, Medwick found three companions saddling horses. A Nocture, a Draken and a feline Anima, each decked out in furs that clung like seal-skin in the downpour. They were hoisting laden backpacks and mounting up as he reached them. One hand extended and presented the trio a clutch of scrolls. "This is it. All I have learned of the Ghoul Sage. Carry it to the three cities - to Aldus, Tavark and Barvelle." The papers were taken, stowed in cloaks and stuffed in satchels. The horses bucked, as if something more than rain now bit at them. Perhaps they sensed the unease of their riders, the weight of the message they carried. Medwick shook hands quickly with each of his companions. "We have travelled far, but we must part ways. I will keep the others safe. Go now. Ride against all winds. Speak to all ears. Let the people know that he is coming." A crack of riding crops and reins made music with the thunder. The horses spurred away down separate exits from the square, chased by Auxes through the black-tiled streets. And as they vanished into shadow Medwick pulled up his hood and, stooping, dashed back towards a lamp-lit tavern where a crow was perched.