The Age of Ethrium (KiloAlpha157 & Evelynne)

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  1. Many years ago, the Gods gathered their might and created the world. This world consisted of one gigantic landmass, the borders of which were sealed off by their will. The will of the Gods traveled throughout the land, creating lakes, rivers, forests, valleys, deserts, tundra, and mountains. Once this world was carved out before them, the Gods created life to inhabit it.

    Among the countless life forms built to roam the land, the one that rose above the rest was Humanity. They fashioned tools, created towns, roads, and many works of art. Humanity prospered in this world. The Gods were exhausted from the work they had done to bring everything to life. After great deliberation, the Gods decided that Humanity was worthy enough to inherit the mantle of responsibility that they carried. One fateful day, the Heavens cried from above, raining down crystals of blue, red, green, yellow, white, and black. These crystals were made of Ethrium, the essence of the Gods. Their mantle passed on, the Gods entered a deep slumber.

    Ethrium became one with the earth itself and all of its life. Over time, fantastic creatures were found wandering the world, and generations of Humans who could harness the power of the crystals were born. Used as a power source, Ethrium allowed Humanity to erect many awesome cities and mighty fortresses. This was Humanity’s golden age of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, as is the nature of all things, it would not last.

    No one knows what started the Great Ethrium War, but it nearly tore the world to pieces. Dozens of factions arose and tens of thousands of Ethrium Wielders were killed. As a result, many of the crystals embedded within the planet withered and died. Humanity had lost its gift and many of its Ethrium based wonders. Great cities fell into disrepair and fortresses were abandoned. Desperate and broken, Humanity united under a single Monarchy and the war ended with no true victor.

    Generations passed as Humanity carried on without the power of Ethrium to fuel their way of life. There were some who believed their gift would return if they appealed to the Gods, but they received no answers. One day though, a miracle happened. The King’s Wife gave birth to six children. All of them were girls and all of them wielded the power of Ethrium. The Kingdom rejoiced as their faith in the Gods was renewed.

    It is said that the King received thousands of suitors for his daughters, with many families desperate to bring an Ethrium Wielder into their family line. The King, protective over his girls, soon allowed protectiveness to turn into paranoia. He turned away all suitors, even those belonging to noble families he long considered allies. Allegiances were shattered and rebellion arose, with many furious that the King would hoard such a gift.

    By keeping his daughters away from the rest of the world, he easily brainwashed them into doing his bidding. These six girls used their power to kill thousands and enslave even more. It was not long before the rebellion was crushed and the King’s rule was made absolute. None dared oppose him. Still, the paranoia ate away at him to the point where he no longer trusted the kin he used to achieve victory.
    Working behind their backs, one by one he betrayed his children, creating horrific devices that subdued them and harnessed their power. Six towers were built around the world to house the girls, with a seventh built in the center of the land to house the King himself. All threats finally neutralized, the King ruled a land of frightened people and shattered spirits.

    The cause for what happened next is speculated by many but known by none. Some say the King tried to pierce the veil that bordered the world. Others say that he attempted to enter the Heavens. All that is known for certain is that one day the King woke the Gods. Furious with what they saw, they used all of their might to punish Humanity for their sins.

    Most of Humanity was wiped out and the world split into four pieces. As the continents drifted apart, the Gods created a vast ocean to fill the void between them. The veil was stretched out to the point that no Human could ever reach it. Humanity, though forever connected to Ethrium, had its link severely weakened, ensuring that it could be never be used for such terrible purposes ever again. Once again, the Gods slept.
    Many years have passed since that time, and there are none left alive who lived it. Though there are some who still study Ethrium and are capable of wielding it to a minor extent, it is considered taboo in most societies, a reminder of Humanity’s greatest sin. However, there are still those who believe that the Age of Ethrium will come again…
    In the southernmost continent of Ackria, there are two Kingdoms: Rominus in the West and Aradesh in the East. Divided by a massive mountain range and a small desert pass in the South, these two kingdoms lived in relative peace until now. King Bryson Endell of Rominus has assembled a mighty host to invade the eastern kingdom. The invasion was so sudden that a great deal of territory was taken before Aradesh even had a chance to retaliate. By the time they did, the armies of Rominus were ready, and the Defenders’ host was shattered in a bloody battle.

    Now the armies of Rominus march north toward the enemy’s Capital. Though slowed by guerrilla fighters and stragglers from the royal host, there is little to stop them from total victory. Still, Aradesh refuses to surrender, ready to fight to the last man if that’s what it takes.

    This story begins in a humble yet prosperous Aradesh town overlooked by a keep, just east of where this crushing battle took place. Bordered mostly by forest with only a single road travelling through it, the town of Greenleaf has never known war until now.

    Tyrious Westmore is the second son to Lord Tygan Westmore. Tygan is the Commander of all Rominus’ invading forces and is directly responsible for the campaign’s resounding success. Tyrious is a skilled warrior, but he is constantly overshadowed by his older brother. Greenleaf, now under the official rule of Rominus, requires new management.

    Deciding it’s time his son learns real responsibility, Tygan leaves Tyrious in charge of Greenleaf and begins the march north. With a bitter populace to manage and a forest full of freedom fighters to break, he’ll have more than his fair share of responsibilities. But this is just the beginning of his journey, and yours. Who will you be?

    Dozens of plumes of black smoke were rising into the air. That's all I could focus on. Along with the smell of burning flesh that accompanied them. Early this morning we had struck the final blow to our enemy's main host. Our scouts caught them moving through a relatively unknown forest path in an attempt to launch a counterattack at our army's flank. We were too quick, however, and our vanguard laid out an ambush.

    The battle itself was quick and bloody. My father led the attack, striking right at their center in a bold display. Once they realized what was happening and were able to organize a defense, my brother rode into their flank with the full might of our cavalry. They were trapped and slaughtered. I caught the tail end of the battle, riding in with a small retinue to cut down any stragglers. We spent the rest of the morning piling the corpses and burning them.

    And it's all I can think about.

    "You'll have a retinue of three hundred men under your command. Your 'companions' may stay with you as well. I expect things to run smoothly in my absence. No mistakes, do you understand?"

    "Yes Father." I reply absentmindedly.

    "What's the first thing you'll do once I leave?" He asks, testing me to see if I've listened.

    "Gather the townspeople for them to witness their leader swear fealty to myself and the Crown." I explain.

    He nods in approval as we climb down from the battlements. This town is home to a small keep, which I imagine was used for the rest and resupply of military forces due to how well stocked we found it. Father believes it will serve as a good base of operations. When we reach the courtyard, Father walks to the stables and mounts his horse before coming back to me. "If the situation changes, I'll send a bird with your orders. Otherwise you will hold this post under any and all circumstances. Do not disappoint me."

    "I won't, Father."

    He nods again as he and his knights ride to the gate. Along the way they pass my brother, who rides in on his white charger. He says a short word to our father and then comes to me, dismounting his steed and throwing his armored hand over my shoulder. I smile timidly as he tussles my bright blonde hair. "My baby brother leading his first command!" He states proudly.

    "My big brother going off to win all the glory while I stay in a spot where Father doesn't have to think about me." I retort.

    "You mustn't think of it like that."

    "But it is like that." I frown.

    "Well, yes, but you have to prove yourself to be more than what he thinks." He encourages me.

    "How am I to prove myself when he won't even give me the opportunity?"

    "You know Father. He's not going to just hand things to you, baby brother. You have to find the opportunity and seize it!" He makes a dramatic motion of grasping an object with his hand. He can see I'm not entirely convinced, so he pats me on the back. "You'll figure it out. I know you will."

    I look at him with great skepticism, so he continues. "And look at it this way; if you fail, Father will put you somewhere so far away that you'll never even have to see him again!"

    I smile. "You always know how to inspire me, Tyrael."

    He smirks. "That's what I'm here for." He leans in and kisses my forehead. "Just be safe, baby brother."

    I nod and watch as he returns to his horse and rides off to join father. He doesn't look back, but I keep my gaze locked on him until he's out of sight. Once he's gone, I climb the battlements and watch as my father's forces leave the town. An eerie quietness overtakes my surroundings. A soldier approaches me. "Your orders, Lord Westmore?"

    "Gather the townspeople in front of the keep."
  2. I wince and grunt in pain as I fall to the ground. I raise myself, my hand finding its way back to my staff. When I glance behind, I see Abraxas disappear into the thicket. Lodged in a tree trunk, right where my head was levelled up to, was an arrow. This has been one of the many other times he’s saved me for my carelessness. But I don’t want to be as helpless as he thinks I am.

    I move swiftly through the forest growth, the sharp air hits my face. I could see some of the foliage ahead of me, shriveled and dying. Marks of Abraxas’ power, and all I had to do was follow the trail of it. And the noise, blades clashing. There was more than one attacker. But with the skill of my mentor, most of the small band were subdued and beaten. And by the time I arrived at the scene, Abraxas had already swiped down the last of them. But not quite, he missed one. I materialized and sent out dagger of ice straight through his heart in an instant. The body staggered before collapsing. My outstretched hand ached, followed by a sudden pain, lingering from the quick spell.

    I feel so tired. And I can see the same exhaustion in his ash grey eyes. Even the spell I’d cast wasn't supposed to have any effect on me, if I was in optimal condition. But we’d been walking, running, for days. We rarely stopped anywhere for too long because of the hunters and assassins. But… most of them weren’t even the professional kind, which made it easier to kill. Craftsmen, bandits, even simple farmers desperately chased down Ethrium Wielders. Hunting with their crude tools and blinded by their determination. But what else did they have to lose if they’ve already lost a lot in the first place? Ever since the start of the invasion, the prices of basic commodities increased. Poverty and unrest worsened more than ever. A wielder’s head was worth a large sum if given to one of the nobles, enough to feed a family for months. I wanted to understand, I really did. Before this whole mess, I’d never killed anyone before. But I couldn’t do it anymore. I just can’t bring myself to feel any remorse for the men who fought tooth and nail to kill me.

    Maybe Abraxas had been right all along. I should never place my trust in a non-wielder.

    “If I’m not mistaken,” he said, sheathing his sword. “There’s a town up ahead.”

    “Then we’ll have to move around it.”

    “No. We're going in.”

    “But I’m fi--”

    “But nothing. Freya, I’m human too.”

    My face blushed in embarrassment as he turned to me and smiled. I knew I was getting sick of the berries and small game that we caught. And the meat was even eaten raw, since we didn’t have much time to cook while on the run. And the lack of any rest was slowly eating away at our stamina. Not only were we tired, we were also starving. But not a word of complaint came from me. I didn’t want to seem weak. With that in mind, I hardly realized that he went through the same thing… he always seemed so capable on his own. But it was better to keep ourselves from collapsing on the way to the ports.

    “Okay,” I nodded, “But how? We’re dead the moment we get in.”

    I knew the answer to it as Abraxas walked closer and knelt down by one of the bodies. He began untying, unlacing, undressing it… after pulling off his robe, he also took off the telltale crests pinned to his vest, it gave away too much of his image as a full-fledged mage. Killing was a kind of violation on its own, while stealing off the dead was another matter. Wearing a dead man’s clothes. The very idea of it perturbed me. But there was nothing I could do. So I went towards the smallest build of the four, laying my staff beside the body and shrugging my robe off. I had my back turned, both of us facing away from the other as we switched garments.

    “What about the staffs?” I asked whilst slipping a plain, tattered shirt over my own cleaner one, tucking it in the hem of my skirt. “You don’t mean that we have to…”

    “We have to.”

    “But what if we need it?”

    “Relax. Leave it to me. And here, use this,” he turned to toss the belt he unclasped from the corpse.

    I grabbed it in midair. It was a leather belt, with small pouches, and no doubt that Abraxas emptied it. And there it went around my hips. Another thinner belt held the lightweight daggers on me, the belts overlapped and slightly crossed over each other. Next, I reached over to hold the crystal, and with a twist of my hand, I removed it. The orb glowed brighter and colder in my fingers. I could practically feel the raw magic seep out into my skin, uncontrolled by its original vessel. I quickly placed it in one of the empty pouches. Abraxas was done with his staff just before he used his energy on mine. He came nearer and picked up my glaive. The staff was left levitating between his hands as he muttered a few esoteric words. It was soon coated in a thick blue aura as it shrank down its original form. It took him a minute or two to complete the ritual… And when he returned it back to me, my staff had been reduced to a mere metal pendant. The shape of the glaive’s head was the design on the pendant. In it went inside another pouch.

    We were taking a huge risk on this. But we knew that risks were part of this whole journey. For the time it took to revert the staff back was the same time it took to restructure it to its useful state. Not a good thing if we were caught in battle.
    The faint sounds of hooves in the distance made us move. Frankly, any sound that reminded us of the armies would alert me. Robes were hidden and bodies were rolled down into the tangles of forest growth. It was done more out of paranoia, but it was better to do it just in case.
    #2 Eve, Jan 30, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2015
  3. People begin to gather at the gate as soon as the horn blows. Nervous thoughts shoot through my mind. I've been taught exactly what to say and what to do, but I still find myself jittery. A million things could go wrong if I don't make the proper impression here. As soon as I step toward the gate, someone bumps into my side and sends me stumbling. Confused, I turn toward the perpetrator. She smiles at me with her slightly crooked teeth. Her mischievous green eyes practically pierce into me, causing a growing discomfort. "Good morning, Fara." I sigh.

    "Someone looks nervous." She blatantly observes. I shoot her a displeased glare, and she retaliates by innocently playing with her auburn hair, pushing it back behind her pointed ear. Fara is an Elf, one of the few Elves living in Rominus, and my best friend. She has a small figure, and stands a foot shorter than the average human, but she walks and talks like she's the Queen of Rominus.

    "Don't bump into me." I order.

    "Deepest apologies, milord." She curtsies like a noble woman.


    "You really need to lighten up, Ty. It's your first command!" She reminds me excitedly.

    "Exactly. It's my first command. So much can go wrong." I frown.

    "Look at those gorgeous blue eyes. Who wouldn't swear fealty to those?" She asks, cupping my chin. I pull back and swat her hand away.

    "It's not a joke," I reiterate, "my family and Kingdom are depending on me."

    "Uh-huh," she nods, unconvinced, "well, how can I be of service, Lord Westmore?"

    "Just go up to the battlements and shout out if someone's trying to kill me, would you?"

    "As my Lord commands." She bows and departs.

    I resume my trip to the gate as a massive armored soldier joins my side. "Gerald." I greet him politely.

    "My Lord." He responds through the slit in his helmet. Gerald is a giant of a man, towering over seven and a half feet. Many years ago, he was appointed to be my personal bodyguard. Covered from head to toe in thick plate metal armor, most people tend to forget that he's human. He's a good person though, and fiercely loyal. The portcullis raises and I approach the crowd with Gerald as my retinue gathers around us.

    I see many fearful faces among the gathered townspeople. Even more faces dare not even look up at me. On the battlements, my soldiers deploy the banners displaying the Silver Crown of Rominus on a green background. They gently flap in the wind, catching the attention of many of the gathered citizens. Clearing my throat causes them to shift their gazes to me. Bright blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin and clad in bright and shining steel armor. I wonder how I look to them. Does it really matter?

    "People of Greenleaf, I am Tyrious Westmore, son of Lord Tygan Westmore, Grand General of the Rominus Royal Army. Your town and all surrounding territories are now a part of the Kingdom of Rominus, and you now serve under His Royal Majesty, King Bryson. I have been appointed Lord of Greenleaf by my Lord Father. Make no mistake; we do not come as conquerors or thieves. We are not here to plunder your homes and move on. All tithes paid to your former rulers will now be paid to the Kingdom of Rominus. It is a Lord's duty to serve his people, and I vow that I will serve you well. Any questions or concerns that you have shall be taken to me, and I will do my best to facilitate your needs. I will now accept an oath of fealty from the former Lord of Greenleaf." I declare.

    "Lady of Greenleaf, my Lord. Lady Darrien, to be exact." She announces. I watch as she steps from the front of the crowd. She looks about twice my age. Her attire is humble, much like the rest of her people's, but she still walks with an air of authority. Her brunette hair falls to the center of her back, and she has a decent tan. I don't doubt that she's spent a lot of time outside of the keep to be with her people. She stops a few feet from me. She says nothing, but her icy stare says it all.

    "Kneel, my Lady." I gently command. She tests me, standing still.

    "I beg your pardon, my Lord?" She cocks her head.

    "In our customs, we kneel when we swear our loyalty to those above us." I explain. She continues to stand. I make a subtle motion with my hand, and Gerald approaches Lady Darrien with a level of speed that's frightening for a man of his size. After seeing the split second of fear in her eye, I stop Gerald with my hand and he returns to me side. "Kneel, my Lady." I repeat.

    She reluctantly obeys my command, kneeling down into the dirt. "I and the people of Greenleaf swear fealty to you, Lord Westmore, and His Royal Majesty, King Bryson. We will follow your rule and serve the Kingdom of Rominus with great loyalty." Every word pains her, but she finishes her oath.

    "You may rise, Lady Darrien. I am appointing you as a chief advisor to my council. You will present yourself for my meetings and for all court appointments. You may all return to your business." I explain, catching the looks of not just the townspeople, but my own soldiers as well.

    "Y-yes, my Lord." Lady Darrien replies, quickly stifling her confusion and apprehension. I turn around and re enter the keep, with Gerald, Lady Darrien, and some of my soldiers following me. The rest disperse into the town, taking up their new position as guards of the town. As I pass through, I glance up and meet Fara's smile from the battlements. I can't help but smile back.
  4. "Got something on you." Abraxas wipes away the dirt off my cheek.

    I thank him as he continues to check if I've been hurt anywhere else from the fall. He finds none. Then, he hands over a fair chunk of the money he's scavenged. It wasn't much, but it was enough to cover our lodgings and other necessary expenses. Whether it be earned fairly or unfairly, it was hard earned money. How many wives and children were waiting? Families left behind? Waiting for someone who would never return. I can't afford to think about that right now. Now, I had to avoid being that someone.

    As I turn my back to return to the trail, I can hear him kick the last of them down the sloping, uneven ground.

    Minutes of silence pass by as we walk. If we hadn't lost our steed along the way, the trip would've proved much shorter for us. And less tiring. Out in the wilderness, we only had each other for company. The long stretches of silence often led to discussion, and sometimes, arguments. I glanced at him. He ran his hand through his platinum blond locks and sensing my stare, he gazed back at me.

    "Not all of them are bad. Its the war," I began.

    "Yeah. You get to see them for what they really are in war."

    "No, the circumstances they were in--"

    "Don't be ridiculous. What about Haile? Think about it. It's no more different in Rominus than it was in Aradesh. If you believe that any one of them was sincere, then you're fooling yourself. I may not be sure of her reasons, but it was a matter of time before the invasion. We would've been caught in it as pawns. They had it coming. "

    "So you're saying... you're saying that if she really did it, that you'd agree with what she did?"

    "Yes," he scoffed. He couldn't believe that I still vied for my friend's innocence.

    "They did nothing wrong to deserve it. And I know Haile, she wouldn't do it."

    "So you suggest we stick around until they're done using us?"

    "I didn't say that."

    "Then choose which side you're on. You can't please everyone," he sighed, "You're too kind. That's the problem with you. Valdrin made the same mistake, I don't want you to end up the same way he did."

    I left it at that. Just from the change in the tone of his voice told me that he didn't want to pursue the topic any further. I never knew anything else about Valdrin, only that he had once been a close friend of Abraxas. But a dead one, nonetheless. We began changing paths, heading towards the main road.
  5. I turn my gaze from my old friend to the highest tower of the keep. Our flag had already been raised for all to see. Our standard was composed of two parts: the first being the green and silver Rominus Royal Sigil, and below that, a slightly smaller flag displaying a golden sword on a royal blue background; the sigil of House Westmore. Most standard bearers in our army carried this flag. It's symbolic in our Kingdom, as the Endell line governs the country and the Westmores defend it. This is how it has been since the formation of Rominus generations ago.

    Our group enters the main hall of the keep, where a basic throne sits for the keep's ruler to hold court and make judgments. My soldiers are already hard at work, renovating the keep for its new owners. Lady Darrien looks around nervous as furniture and belongings are shifted around with little care to their conditions. In the center of the hall, a man in simple clothing is furiously waving his clipboard at one of my soldiers in what looks like a heated argument. I approach them, capturing the attention of my man. "What's going on here?" I ask.

    "Lord Westmore, this insolent-"
    "This bumbling, armored buffoon-" They answer simultaneously, so I cut them off with the wave of my hand.

    "Return to duty," I order the soldier, "now what is the problem?" I ask the man.

    "Milord, with all due respect, the keep is yours, and its contents are yours to do with what you will, but this is not just a military compound. For those of us who have governed the town, it is our home, and it is filled with our belongings. On top of that, the keep acts as a bank, and many of the townspeople store personal effects here along with valuables. I fear for the morale of the people if their prized possessions are carelessly handled. They have been through enough today." He explains. I ponder for a moment, looking at Lady Darrien. She looks back at me, waiting for my move.

    I motion for one of my nearby soldiers to come and stand at attention. "I'm modifying the renovation project. You and the others are to work with this man. I want the town vault and bedrooms closely inspected, but I do not want anything removed or damaged. Everything goes back in its place when you're done or there will be consequences." I order.

    "Right away, Lord Westmore." He accepts without hesitation. I turn back to the man, who stares back nervously.

    "Thank you, milord." He says almost begrudgingly.

    "What's your name?"

    "My name is Kurt. I'm- I was the steward of this keep. I worked for Lady Darrien."

    "Now you work for me."

    He looks weary but nods and pardons himself. Turning to Lady Darrien, I can tell she is weary as well. "Lady Darrien, you may retire to your chambers. Gerald will escort you and keep you well guarded. We have Court in the morning, so be rested."

    "Yes, Lord Westmore." She replies, unnerved by my order to have my towering bodyguard keep watch over her. She and Gerald leave. Fara is all that remains.

    "Aw, don't I get a stern order from Lord Westmore?" She asks, smirking playfully.

    "Do what you do best; stick in the shadows, make note of anything or anyone specific."

    She brings her stiffened hand to her forehead in a dramatic salute. "It will be done, my Lord."

    Alone now, I walk to the apartments. The keep seems much bigger on the inside, and it's well furnished. A part of me is pained to tear so much out and change things around, but it is my keep now and the appearance needs to reflect that. I run my hand over the stone as I walk the halls. It's old, old stone. I wonder how long this keep has stood here, and how many different people have ruled it. I'll bet I'm the first Rominus citizen to govern in its seat. Eventually the thoughts of governance creep back into my head, making me uneasy. Father's left me with no advisers or senior knights. Most of my soldiers, while seasoned, have seen nowhere near the amount of fighting as most of the army.

    The thoughts dissipate when I reach a door at the end of the hall in the east wing. I knock before letting myself inside. The room is dim, with many candles illuminating its shadowy confines. There is a large study desk laden with several stacks of leather bound books in all sorts of different sizes. In the far corner across from the door is an apothecary station with all strange manner of tools and ingredients. A girl sits on the bed reading a small green cover book, partially concealed by shadow and a white hood. "Brianne?" I ask.

    "Oh, hello Tyrious." She looks up at me with her curious brown eyes.

    I step inside and shut the door behind me. "I recognize everything in here. This is set up just like your room back at Castle Westmore. It's like stepping into home." I reminisce.

    "It makes it easier to adjust." She smiles timidly. "So how did it go?"

    "The old leader and steward now work for me." I answer. I pull the chair from her desk and sit at the end of her bed.

    "Oh? Making friends out of enemies? Not a terrible strategy, I suppose." She ponders.

    "That, and keeping valuable hostages." My lips curl into a slightly smug smile.

    "Hostages?" She inquires.

    "They dress how their people do and they are genuinely invested in the welfare of the townspeople. Not only do I need that to help me rule effectively, but keeping them close will keep the common folk in line." I explain.

    "Smart, but you should be careful about how much freedom you give them. I'd imagine people like that would be involved with any type of guerrilla fighters hiding out in the forest."

    "Ah, the ones you keep bringing up but have no proof of?" I sigh, leaning back in the chair a bit.

    "It's worth considering. The bordering forest would make an excellent home for anyone attempting to resist your rule."

    "You're not wrong, but even if there were rebels, I can't afford to send any soldiers out of the town while we're still settling in. And besides, I can't go treating my new adviser or steward with hostility when they've done nothing for me to doubt their compliance."

    Brianne sets her book aside. "I will not tell you what you should or shouldn't do. That is not my place. But you're a leader now, and being a leader means making very difficult decisions. I have studied the people of Aradesh during our time here, and they are a strong people. Our army got the drop on them, but this is still their home, and they know it better than we do. To them, you are a tyrant, a conqueror. No matter what you say to them. I want to see you succeed, which is why I'm suggesting you prepare for less desirable situations." She warns.

    "Less desirable situations are why I brought you here, Bri." I smile again.

    She smiles back. "Well, having one of the only Ethrium Acolytes in Ackria on your side would help you prepare now, wouldn't it?"
  6. I squint at the distant and faint shape ahead of us. We look deplorable without our robes covering us. Cuts and scrapes revealed by the exposed skin of our arms and legs. My boots caked with mud, and I could begin to feel the steadily blooming bruise on my knee. We sped up along the now empty road. I can barely keep up with his pace. Was he angry? It was hard to tell, Abraxas was good at hiding what he really felt or thought. I could only rely on his words, or the cues that would slip out every once in a while.

    Growing weary, I tried to seek comfort. Tried. I wanted to hold his hand, wanted to be held. And my fingers reached forward, but they never did reach him at all.

    "Looks like they came here first." He announced, glancing behind his shoulder at me. I'd already snatched my hand back before he could see. My hands hugged around my arms. Abraxas stared at me as I nodded, looking back up to confirm that the Rominus ensign stood tall and upright on the settlement. But it offered no immediate relief. Whereas the nobles would be a little more dismissive, the common people were still as ruthless as ever. Their judgement was clouded by the thickest fog of hate, and it didn't even make sense to me anymore. Their fingers had to be pointed somewhere, to justify the misery. Our relations with non-wielders was tense from the very beginning.

    And so, the only way we'd be safe was to keep ourselves inconspicuous. But, if by some chance we were graced with bad luck, the only hope was to seek refuge with whichever noble now ruled this town. I had a few names in mind, but who's to know if they would extend that kind of courtesy to us? They were a list of possible names, not faces or identities. I have no idea what they would be like.

    In a voice that seemingly gave off concern, Abraxas frowned, "Let's get going then." He turned back forward, breaking out into a run. I probably looked like I was sick. I've never felt, or rather I've never felt the effects, of a bitter coldness. Only now did I feel it. And in a completely different way than I expected.

    I followed after him. We ran past the last stretching distance between us and the town, with me frequently pausing to catch my breath. I can see the marks of hooves that, no doubt, were from the army that left. Abraxas just kept going. It was the consequence of having to live a mostly sedentary life in my younger years. By the time we reached the site, I bent over with my hands on my knees, panting heavily. I could feel my heart pounding on that last leg of the race.

    Abraxas stood still as I straightened up. He was looking up, almost glaring, at the figures occupying the ramparts above. His hand covering him from the sunlight that glared right back down.

    "Now what?" I asked breathily.

    "Now we wait." He replied calmly, but I could hear the shout of one of the alarmed guards. I'm rattled by the yelled question. Frankly, I just didn't find the energy to shout back, much less speak more than a sentence. I suspect Abraxas might've felt the same way. Ignoring it, he strolled on towards the direction of the main gate.
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