Elemental Power

Remnant: Book of Tulefore Chapter 3

The Royal Asterium was located at the northern tip of Tulefore city. Its tall, bleak walls contained a selection of magi from across the empire. Some of the young magi boasted birthrights belonging to the city, while others had been discovered across the sea in far-off lands and brought back to serve Tulefore. Regardless of their background, those who were drafted to live within the halls of the Asterium were offered the best education in order to grow and refine their powers.

Those of magical blood would often show aptitude at a young age, but individuals who forewent any training would never go on to strengthen their attunement to the elemental forces about them. The magical bloodlines of Tulefore had long since made sure that not a single soul showing such aptitude would go untrained. At the Asterium, it was the teachings of control, focus, amplification, and direction, as well as healing magics, that turned the attending magi into forces of power and support that could bolster a unit of regular men. In addition to honing their powers, teachings of diplomacy, etiquette, and oration, made the magi greatly desirable to be included in the Empire’s overseas affairs.

It was the morning after the arrival of the Slanian Viceroy that Terren had taken on the task of recruiting one of the Asterium’s magi. The building was of a similar make to the other architecture of the city, but as always, the air about it held a stillness like no other. Some might have said that it was an incantation of one of the more powerful magi, protecting the surrounding area from the powers being used within. The thin windows peered down upon Terren as he stepped under the entranceway and knocked upon the door. It opened suddenly for him, allowing him passage inside.

“Come deeper,” the whisper of a small voice spoke to him. Terren held his breath. The entryway held an artificial illumination, and in the few natural light beams coming in through the narrow windows, there was dancing of dust in the air. Deeper inside, Terren found himself in a boxy room, with a staircase wrapping up one corner to the next window up. Deeper hallways continued off to his front and to the right. A tapping of footsteps through the room pulled his attention to the darkness before him.

“Good morning to you.” The same small voice spoke out to him. A girl of about ten, with shortly shaved hair, came down the hallway out of the dim light. “May I be of service?”

Terren peered down at the girl, his hands grasped together before him. “I, erm, have come on official business.”

The girl blinked at him. “Father did not say we would be expecting anyone.”

“It’s… a sudden matter that has come up.” Terren avoided her gaze and attempted to look down the hall from where the girl had come. “I was told to seek out Lahldonicus.”

The girl’s eyes widened. “That’s father,” She paused, looking back. “We are currently taking breakfast…”

“It’s fine, Galen.” Another voice came her way. A taller man, with a similar complexion to the girl, stepped out and placed his hand at her back. “I wondered what was taking you. Go back and finish your meal with the others.” The older mage directed, pushing off the little girl. He shifted back to Terren. “I apologize, I was expecting a delivery. I did not realize that his highness would be visiting us this day as well.”

“Lahldonicus, I presume?” Terren said, straightening his posture. “We’re in need of magical reinforcement to join a unit, destined for overseas.”

“I see. Now, we mustn’t be so hasty,” Lahldonicus said in a low tone, his eyes turning about to the messy shelves at the side of the room. “Can I interest you in something warm to drink? It’s still early, something with inspiring properties?”

“My father would not wish for me to trifle about,” Terren spoke up, “Respectfully, sir.”

The mage sighed and began to sway toward Terren, looking him over. “I should have realized so. Danus has never so hastily requested one of my men without a detailed mandate.” He mounted the first step of the nearby stairs and twirled his fingers in invitation to the young man. “Follow.”

Terren continued after the mage obediently, ascending to the second floor. “Your daughter, she is in training as well?”

“Of course, one cannot let aptitude go to waste,” Lahldonicus hummed. The upper floor was brightly lit, with more windows about the walls. At one side was another sealed door, looking to head out to the exterior. “Now, I have several of my disciples who would be a fit for attending to a unit of your forces. Do you know who may be commanding said unit?”

“Guard Captain Silvus, in fact,” Terren announced.

Lahldonicus jerked upward and tilted his head to the side. “I see.” He pushed through the door, allowing the blinding light of the early morning inside. At the exterior was a long catwalk, overlooking the round courtyard of the Asterium which was open to the weather.

Terren marched outside after the mage and looked down upon the area. Two pairs of magi were in the midst of exercising their powers, targeting bales of hay and wooden dummies. “Impactful, as always.”

“What is the assignment, if I may ask?” The gaunt mage blinked at the young man.

“Slana,” Terren replied, glancing out at the sea. “The natives are forcing rebellion about the city, and possibly threatening the Villa at the coast. The Viceroy told us all about it, and how he is worried about the people there.”

“The city.” Lahldonicus shook his head. “I suppose, then, you would wish for one of mine with… more restraint.”

“I suppose so.”

The mage stroked his chin. “Hmm, that rules out Zethurus…” He said, glancing down to a long-haired mage. “That one, perhaps…” He clapped suddenly, causing the magi down below to stop mid-incantation. “Elwar, meet me in the hall of affairs.” A tanned-skinned mage peered up at them and nodded his head.

Terren trailed after the head mage through deeper parts of the Asterium again at the lower level, where the selected mage was already awaiting them. He bowed at Terren after a brief meeting of eyes. “Elwar, this is Terren, from the Castle. Your highness, Elwar here has shown he is quite capable.”

“Elwar… your face says to me you come from Soany?” Terren spoke up.

“Yes,” Lahldonicus answered, “when he was found, the locals believed him to be some sort of accursed one, as they say, I was told. What an uncouth kind to not recognize magical aptitude when they see it. He was brought over when he was still young, and we were able to turn him into something of use.”

“The powers of the stone, I am fluent in.” The mage spoke up.

“He shall do.” Terren nodded and glanced at the boy. “Good Elwar, Commander Silvus has requested I bring forth the mage I have chosen so that you may meet and discuss your duties.”

“My pleasure, your highness.”

Kin

Remnant: Book of Tulefore Chapter 2

Outside the walls of the vibrant city and the bustle of its people, was the location of the barracks of the Tuleforian military. As peace had been long-standing upon both the mainland and many of the empire’s colonial settlements overseas, the men and women serving in the force were relegated to local peace-keeping and community service. As a result of holding such a position, many sons and daughters of the Tuleforian upper class were easily introduced to ranks of power among the forces.

Though not holding the highest rank of Guard Commander, the Prince-Elector’s second child, Kiaren Auriline, was held in high regard all about the city. The man holding said title of Commander and Kiaren’s superior- likely in title only- went by the name of Silvus Alwyn. The two of them were present that day that the barracks training grounds, watching over the sparring between the veterans and the recruits.

“Don’t give him an opening!” Kiaren directed intensely, her eyes trained to the slashes of wooden swords between the pair of men. The clouds produced from their breath dissipated into the brisk wind. Kiaren winced at the dust picked up by the air which guided the bundle of her reddish-brown hair to dance around her face.

A weathered thumb pushed at the side of her cheek and forced back more of the escaping locks behind her ear. “You’d best get a mirror for your quarters here if you wish to maintain such an unruly head of hair.”

Kiaren opened her eyes to Silvus as he held himself in close proximity to her. She pushed at his chest to force a distance between them and looked back to make sure none of the others had taken notice of them. “Your mother ought to have taught you to keep your hands to yourself.”

“My apologies, Lady Kiaren,” Silvus taunted, his eyes trailing elsewhere while crossing his arms.

“I would never allow myself the vanity of a mirror in the barracks here,” Kiaren stated proudly. “What’s next, bringing my wardrobe down from the castle, and perhaps have a servant as well to help me dress myself?”

“That would indeed be the day.” The commander huffed.

Kiaren tugged on the bundle of hair at her neckline. “I’d be better off chopping off this mess.” She finally declared.

“Now, you shouldn’t think of things so extreme,” Silvus replied, warily looking to the lady’s tender nape.

It was at that time when Terren had come about the barracks on foot to deliver the news of the arrival of the Viceroy, and the message from their father, Danus. “Commander Silvus, sister.” He waved his hand at the two to interrupt the bickering. “I need a word.”

Silvus acknowledged Terren’s arrival and clapped his hands loudly, alerting the trainees. “That shall be enough for this afternoon. Pack it up!”

Kiaren was already at her brother’s side, glancing out in the direction he had come. “Rare for you to venture all the way out here.”

Terren breathed through his mouth and looked his sister up and down. “On the contrary- it’s you who might dare and venture to the castle once every few weeks to offer your greetings… and perhaps enjoy a bath.”

Silvus walked by the two on the way to the dark stone and wood of the barracks facility. He opened the door and stood beside it expectantly. “You two, let’s get out of the cold, shall we?”

The officer’s chambers contained maps of the land and the seas, including the coasts of certain landings to the east where Tulefore held power. Silvus yanked out several of the chairs about the wooden table where meals were taken and training regiments planned. “You must have some good news for us, then, Terren? Is Manek hoping to run a festival for the good harvest this year?”

Terren shook his head before sitting down roughly in an open seat. “You’re familiar with Viceroy Medan?”

“He resides in Slana, is that right?” Kiaren spoke up, her back against a wall nearby. “The quite rotund one?”

Terren shook his head. “If not a bit thinner, even, with the long voyage he’s been on. He’s just returned from the colony there. Says some instability is brewing, if not something worse.”

Silvus frowned and cupped his hands before his chin. “I’d always understood that we had good relations with the native people.”

“Correct, but…” Terren shrugged. “in recent times I’d heard of them pushing farther to the east. There are tribes out there that are less accepting of strangers. That, and the borders between our lands and those other savages can’t be well enough guarded. At least, that’s what father says.”

“So, Danus needs more forces over that way?”

“Our interests and our people would require it,” Terren began, matter-of-factly, “if it is as bad as Medan describes. Danus requested that you come with me to the castle, so that we may discuss how to proceed.”

“Proceed?” Kiaren butted in, “I suppose that means sending more forces to secure the colony? Silvus, my father could intend to send you. If… if that’s the case, I won’t allow it. They won’t send you, if I have any say.”

Terren grit his teeth. “You don’t have any say, sister. Or should you wish to tell father of the secret courting you two have been undergoing?”

Kiaren huffed and paced about to another part of the room. “That is none of your business.”

“If you spent more time at the castle, you would know that such things have a certain order to them, less you wish to upset both families.”

“Enough.” Silvus stood suddenly, projecting his voice. “We don’t know yet of his Highness’ intentions. Kiaren, your father has requested my presence. My duty right now is to answer that call. What comes after is not yet set in stone.”

Up in the office of the Prince-Elector, Danus had laid out the old map of the colonial lands of Slana across his table. Medan was at the opposite side, drawing in fresh lines with a quill to mark out more recent changes in the territory. “We had pushed into this area where there are known to be rich copper deposits,” The viceroy described. “The simple folk there wouldn’t know it from any other rock on the ground, let alone what to do with a coin. They all live in the trees or something.”

A knock came to the door, pulling both of their attention up. “You may enter.” Danus stood and called in response.

Terren was the first to come through the doorway, followed by Silvus and Kiaren. Medan turned about and reached up for Silvus’ hand. “Ah, what a fine gentleman man you’ve become,” He praised. “Last I saw you, you barely had a whisker upon your face.”

“Good arrival, Viceroy,” Silvus reciprocated. He looked to Danus in hopes of redirecting the focus away from himself.

The bearded man was at the window, looking out upon the sea and the dissipating sunlight. “Thank you for coming here in such a haste, Silvus. Kiaren, I see you were able to make it as well.”

“Ah, the daughter,” Medan noted excitedly, looking the young woman up and down. He sat back down before the map and took to rolling his fingers across the parchment.

Kiaren cleared her throat. “You can’t blame me for taking an interest in such things as well, father.” She folded her hands at her back and leaned against the wall.

“Is that so?” Danus finally returned to face the room. He propped himself on the edge of the table with one hand while tracing bits of the map with a sole finger. “Well, I expect Terren has filled you both in on our current situation. As the good Viceroy was just explaining to me, there are a fair bit of separatists who would like to see our power over their land dissolved.”

Silvus shook his head. “Slana does nothing but benefit from the trade passing through there on the way back to our ports.”

“Alas, some of them would want to take it all for themselves.” Medan huffed. “They don’t even have a force of ships to bring it anywhere across the sea.”

“Regardless of what they want…” Danus spoke up, “They are threatening our people. It seems they’ve rallied forces in the capital.”

“They’ve gone and razed the lower quarter of the city!” The viceroy tapped loudly upon the map. “Forced out our fine folk in the mercantile district where they were just trying to make a living. Those people ended up holed up in the Villa, expecting us to keep them safe.”

“And are they safe?” Silvus spoke up.

“When I left, they were, yes,” Medan sighed, “But the good few Slania and the Tuleforian guards stationed there won’t be able to defend for all eternity.”

Danus hummed. “You’ve told me you have a few more ships there at the port you could use, Viceroy.”

“Only if worst comes to worst.”

“Of course.” The bearded man nodded. “Which is why I am… authorizing the formation of a unit to be sent that way. The least we can do is stabilize the capital and protect our people while we reach an agreement with the leaders of the rebellion.”

“At the very least!” Medan stressed.

“I see.” Silvus nodded.

“The only worry, at this point, is the coming winter, which would make the voyage an ordeal even greater than being upon the land.” Danus studied Silvus and Kiaren. “Silvus, can I trust you to assemble a unit to take on this assignment? I’ll see the procuring a proper ship in the meantime.”

“Of course, Prince-Elector, my lord.”

“I intend to step up as well, father.” Kiaren stood up from the back wall. Terren glared at her from behind Silvus’ back.

“A good intention, my dear, but your role here in our lands is still a valuable one.”

Kiaren stepped forward and crossed her arms. “The presence of someone of royal blood upon their land would remind them of who they must submit to.”

Medan looked weakly to Danus, who had already come out from behind the desk. “You still have much to learn, Kiaren. You know that above anything else, I appreciate the role you take in supporting the people of this land. I need you here by my side to continue to do so.”

Kiaren looked to Silvus for aid but received only a turned-down glance of submission. “Kiaren, those men will not train themselves.”

Danus reached out for Kiaren’s shoulders, but the young woman jerked away and distanced herself before exiting the door of the office. The bearded man rested his forehead against his fingers before turning back to the table. “Silvus, create a list of men you would have with you. Terren, I have one last errand for you. Pay a visit to the Asterium, I shall prepare a requisition order. I can foresee the magi being of aid to us in this endeavor.”

“Yes, father.”

The News from Slana

Remnant: Book of Tulefore Chapter 1

Tulefore City was the hub and the capital of the empire, connecting the lands of the nation’s origin, with the sea that led to their colonies far away. The city stretched out along the coastline that met with the calm seas. In the southern section of the city were the wide landings for the Tuleforian fleet as they arrived and departed. In the vicinity was also a fine shipyard, where the sea craft were born. Further inland were the workshops of the artisans and craftsmen that allowed the city to prosper.

The northern section of city was bordered by the smaller of the two ports, from where the fishermen would depart and later bring in their hauls. The bounty of the sea was sold at the nearby market, where those who worked the land would also be able to bring their harvests for selling or bartering off. Even farther at the tip of the city was the Royal Asterium, one of the schools of magics that trained the talented magi to later serve the kingdom.

Dominating the center of the city was a wide, rocky outcropping that stretched out over the water. Upon it was built the finest castle in all the land, housing the Royal family and those who served them. The great hall was the tallest section of the structure, and above it, the rooms in which those of noble blood dwelled. The southern wing was where the kitchens and storerooms were located, as well as the quarters of the servants and cooks. The towers of the northern wing contained the dungeon, an armory, library, and more rooms for those of power to use, such as those certain magi who were of direct service to the royal family.

Terren, the nephew to the present emperor, Manek, was assigned to the duty of accepting an official arriving from across the sea that day. The wide ship of light-colored wood had been directed into the slip by the skilled dock-hands and held safely in place while the gangplank was lowered to the wooden platform below. Terren stood at a welcoming pose as the hefty, older man came down from the deck, an aide carefully walking behind him.

“Welcome home, Medan.” The young man greeted.

The official glanced at him as he stepped down onto the wooden boards. “Ah, young Terran.” The man sighed. “It feels good to be on solid ground again. How is Manek, and your father as well?”

“In proper health, as always.” Terren took the back of Medan’s hand and led him up the dock to the stone embankment. The nearby flight of stairs carved into the hillside allowed for a shorter passage up to the castle. “We only spotted your ship and the flags you were flying a few hours ago. What news do you wish to bring?”

Medan stood before the first tread of the wide stairway and grimaced. “Best wait for your father to begin discussing of it,” he said with a sigh before beginning the arduous climb. “It shouldn’t… be put… on you to worry about such things.”

Terren bit his lip and continued up after the official, carefully posing himself to catch the man should he happen to fall backward. Their destination was the Castle’s hall, where the Emperor and Prince-Elector were awaiting him.

Emperor Manek Auriline was a profuse man, a lover of the things the forces of the empire would bring back home from the far-away lands. Examples of such beloved tastes were just outside the walls of the city, a farm filled with unique animals, plants, and spices that had been long ago brought on ships from across the seas to be bred and grown for his consumption. When he had arisen to the throne after his mother, Katherine Auriline, passed of old age, one might have considered him a more restrained fellow, albeit still a certain lover of the kitchen’s fare.

Over the years, Manek, and likely the empire overall, had become comfortable with the current state of the expanse of their influence and power. In such a standing, his highness had fallen to a mindset of only the day-to-day passing of time, and likely when his next meal would be provided to him. Soon enough, those in support of his rein had allowed him to pass as a simple figurehead for the kingdom, appearing to pass word onto the people of Tulefore, while others worked behind the scenes. His brother and second in line to the throne, Danus Auriline, had stepped down from military leadership to take on the title of Prince-Elector, and fill in the void in power.

Both men, as well as the servants and guards of the Castle, were awaiting the arrival of the official in the great hall. Manek had taken to one of his snacks sitting upon the armrest of the throne while they awaited the arrival of their unforeseen guest. Danus was marching about the steps in front of his brother when the guard signaled Terren and Medan’s entry through the tall doors.

The young man paraded toward his father and uncle with the official from overseas in tow. “Your Highness, Prince-Elector, I present you Viceroy Medan, coming to us today from across the sea from his home in Slana.”

Danus patted his son on the shoulder and allowed him by his side. “Medan, welcome. You were flying flags of distress, from what the watch told us. What news do you bring from Slana?”

Medan held at his stomach. “Terrible, I say you. They’re revolting.”

“Oh my.” Manek hummed, barely taking time to chew some of the nuts he was midway through consuming. “How are the gardens there fairing?”

Medan pursed his lips. He stepped up before the throne, looking the emperor in the eye, then passing further to the far end of the hall. The window making up the rear wall was made of fine stained glass and looked out upon the deep green waters of the sea. “I remain worried for my friends in the villa there… if they even are able to remain there safely. Even those tame few of the populace may be suffering quite the affair.”

Danus caught sight of the castle guards making questionable glances about. He treaded up behind the Viceroy and took his shoulder. “Come, we shall discuss this in a place we may sit- my office? Are you hungry? As you know, the kitchens always having something going.”

Medan rubbed on his stomach in circular motions. “Ah, yes, wonderful. I’d love to have something not of a rat-infested nature, we didn’t have much time to prepare before we set out. I was just telling your son here of finding it nice back upon solid ground as well.”

Danus nodded in agreement as the words passed his ears. He caught Terren’s eyes with a beckoning look. “I’ll be right after you, Viceroy. Terren, I’d like you to find Silvus? This may become an issue of involving our forces.”

“Yes, Father.”

The Trek Home

Remnant: Book of Xiandol Chapter 12 [Final]

Serinda held to Carlyle’s shoulder upon the back of the horse. Kensley kept beside both of them, focusing more on the riders than the dark path ahead of them. Serinda caught the glint of his eyes in the moonlight. “Your man here is still wary of me, captain.”

“Have some respect, Kensley.”

“Sir-”

“Or is something else on your mind?” Carlyle interrupted.

Kensley breathed out heavily. “It’s my fault you were injured, sir.”

“You chose the right course of action, to draw your weapon. You were uncertain of whether or not they would have been a threat. Regardless, the dagger only penetrated so deep.”

The mage felt along Carlyle’s injured bicep. “Those men were cowards, nothing more. I’ll heal the wound if you don’t mind.”

The long-haired man patted at his weaponless thigh. “I left that broken sword back there…”

“They won’t be able to make use of it, I’m sure.” Carlyle let out a sole laugh. “Though, I should be the one apologizing. It was I who allowed you such a poor weapon, so unworthy that it would break right away. I put us both in more danger than I should have.”

Kensley remained quiet for a long while before responding. “Is it true… what you said? About the capital iron supplies?”

Carlyle winced as Serinda’s fingers danced at the wound, sending forth healing energy. “If we find the cache that we’ve been told of, we’ll be slightly better off.

“Mostly better, now, I hope?” The mage asked, returning her hand to her side. She looked back in the distance, where the light of the campfire could no longer be made out. “We’re likely far enough away that they wouldn’t be able to follow. If we stop to rest, I can focus an incantation for some of the night to stave off the cold air, although it isn’t my specialty.”

Carlyle hunched his back and stopped the horse, tapping it about to get a better look in the distance. “You are fortunate to be able to practice various magics. I do believe some rest would do us well.”

More clouds crept over the mountain, and the air began to stir with more light snow. The enforcers took their horses side-by-side to block out most of the wind, while the mage sat cross-legged, eyes closed, to focus the magic about her, stilling the wind. Kensley took the first watch, eyes mostly locked to the mage, while the night continued to creep on. Before midnight, Carlyle awoke to allow his partner to find some sleep

Despite the lack of a full night’s rest, the group resumed movement upon the first light. The land around them had been covered with a light dusting of powdery snow. By midday, they had reached the Ebb and the old camp at its muddy banks. The mage directed the enforcers to a rough patch of dirt beside the meager muddy icy flow. From beneath a shallow layer of filth, they unearthed the woven blanket, containing a tight packing of rough square iron billets. With the bounty secured behind Kensley on the horse, they began their ride back west to Rallig.

As they reached the cold, barren fields outside the town, Serinda finally shifted her weight upon the horse. “I should be off now. I’ll find my own way to Xiandolia when it’s convenient.”

“Do as you wish.” Carlyle offered one final farewell. He glanced to Kensley as they approached closer. “Right, we must seek out the boy here before we leave.”

Kensley looked about to the homes and storehouses. “The eldest, huh?” Kensley replied, recalling his own departure from his home several years previous. “I suppose he would already know his fate.”

“Enforcers!” A teen spoke up to them as they marched forward.

“Oh,” Carlyle noticed him. “I remember your face, from before we left. What is your name, boy?”

“Dalan, sir.”

Carlyle jumped off his horse beside the young man and examined his face and thing whiskers. “I don’t suppose you’re the one we’re looking for?”

Coming Soon: Book of Tulefore

Hidden Blade

Remnant: Book of Xiandol Chapter 10

Herzeg warmed his hands with the mug of water heated by the fire. One of the women fanned at it to keep the smoke from rising up against the wind. Bits of cold precipitation had begun to blow their way into the mountainside crevice. Gul returned from his pack with bits of dried ration and sat beside Herzeg.

“We’ve seen nothing so far this way.” He said bluntly.

“There’s still plenty of mountain.”

“And fewer men to traverse it.” The forge-hand responded. “This is becoming unsustainable.”

“How many billets do we have now, both here and back at the riverbed?”

“Forty-seven, last I counted.”

Herzeg counted on his fingers. “Five, maybe six for each of us. Any extras split between you and myself.”

Serinda caught word of the negotiations and joined the two men. “You’re counting the women in, I assume?”

Herzeg studied the mage’s face in the glow of the fire. “Yourself, of course. I mean, this is all your idea.” He lowered his head and spoke just above a whisper. “The others can simply live off what their husbands earn. Most women have no use for coin.”

Serinda huffed and leaned back against the rock behind her. “Do what you think will make everyone happy, that’s what I brought you on for.”

A shuffling of rock from beyond the glow of the fire pulled up Herzeg and several other’s attention. The leader felt at his belt to make sure the short blade was still at the ready. “Good evening,” Carlyle’s voice came their way first before he came up over the outcropping.

Herzeg stood and secured the furs over his shoulders. He studied the plain-looking stranger, as well as the second long-haired man that came to accompany him. “Other travelers out this far?”

“Yes, we happened to notice the glow of your fire,” Carlyle spoke earnestly. “I don’t suppose we could share in its heat?”

Serinda stared at the men as they came closer to the fire and the ring of men about it. She earned a glance from Kensley, who was stuck close to the first stranger. She retreated slightly and took note of where the two men had come from, and if there were others following.

“It can’t hurt.” Herzeg returned to his seat on the rock, still warily holding to his belt. “Unfortunately, that’s about all we can share.”

Carlyle stepped before the fire and warmed his hands. He caught sight of the injured man, with ankle between wooden splints. “Oh, an unfortunate one. No wonder you’ve taken up in some desolate place. What brings you out here?”

Kensley’s eyes flashed about warily. He caught the look of some of the others, who held gazes locked in distrust. Gul spoke up. “Hunting. There’s been a pack of wolves about here, and they’ve gotten a few of our flock already, what few we have.”

“Wolves, this far south?” Carlyle hummed and raised his eyebrows. “A lot of you to just hunt some wolves. And I don’t see any bows about, either.”

Herzeg huffed and scratched at his stomach before standing and waddling off away from the fire, as nonchalantly as possible. Carlyle offered him a glance before returning his attention to the others.

“What about you two?” The forge-hand changed the subject.

“Interesting you ask,” Carlyle answered, counting the men one by one in silence. Including the leader who had walked off, there were four, on top of three women to round off the group. Carlyle shifted back and urged Kensley closer to the fire. “We noticed an old camp back up near the river. We thought something bad might have happened. You weren’t run off by your wolves, by any chance?”

Herzeg approached again, from behind the two of them. “The only wolves would be the ones from the capital.” As he spoke, Kensley jutted back. “Fine horses you have back there, enforcers.”

A few of the others stood and backed away. Serinda stood stiffly at the other side of the fire. Carlyle sighed and felt at his thigh. “We’re going to need to search your belongings. We know what you’ve been up to, and we’re duty-bound to take anything not made under Xiandolan decree.”

“Serinda, might you help them?” Herzeg said pointedly.

“Make this worth my while.” Serinda huffed, conjuring a gust of wind, sending a rush of flames from the fire across the enforcers. Carlyle was able to shield his face from the licks of the flames, while Kensley pulled him back by his arm. The women ducked away from the fight, and some of the men pulled roughly-forged daggers from their belts.

Kensley regained his balance, back to back with the Captain, before he extracted his sword. “Lay down your weapons, or we will use force!”

“Calm your nerves.” Carlyle hushed back. “The worst of the bunch is their mage, and she could have done a lot more already.”

“Leave now, and we’ll spare your lives,” Herzeg directed. “We’ll even allow you one of your horses.”

“Boss,” Gul pleaded, circling back around to Herzeg. “Let’s just give them what they want, and avoid more injuries.” He leaned in close to whisper as they met side-by-side. “Remember, the majority of it is still back at the riverbed.”

“Take, take, take, that’s all Halmalch and his people ever do.” The leader beat nervously on his thigh. “What have they provided us, besides beaten-up tools in return?”

Carlyle shook his head. “The Kingdom’s forges are barren of iron. We have barely enough to outfit our men, let alone provide tools for the people of the land. You’ve been using your mage to aid in the unearthing of the ore, have you? Share with us your methods, and we can both benefit.”

Herzeg sneered. “You say that, with your own partner jutting a fine sword our way?”

“At ease, Kensley.” Carlyle spoke back to the long-haired man, still on edge and posed toward the leader and the forge-hand. His breath was suddenly jolted from his lungs as a rock impacted upon his chest from a woman at the edge of the firelight.

“Just go! Leave us be.”

“We are duty-bound!” Carlyle reiterated, holding his breast.

“We’ve heard!”

Kensley glanced back to the crux in the rock where a collection of packs and tarps were collected, laden with various materials inside. He pushed back and nudged at the supplies with his foot, rolling them open. His eyes darted back and forth toward the others. “Is this where you’re keeping your contraband? Captain, help me.”

“Leave that be!” Herzeg growled. From his waist, he extracted a short dagger and tossed it from between tight fingers out toward Kensley. Carlyle reacted first and moved in front of the blade, where it buried itself into his shoulder.

“Captain!” Kensley cried out, rushing past him to subdue the attacker. Herzeg stepped back over the uneven ground as Kensley thrust his sword outward.

Carlyle held at his arm, before noticing another man coming his way. He dodged the attack of another dagger and took grasp of the man’s arm before tossing him down onto the hard ground with a dull cry.

Kensley swung wildly, disregarding his footing. Herzeg crouched about and grabbed up a stone before lancing it at his attacker. Kensley swung to block the rock. The blade of the sword impacted upon it, causing the base of the sword to crack just above the handle and fall apart. The top of the blade fell to the ground in a clatter.

Carlyle yanked the dagger from his bicep and looked for other attackers. Serinda was across the fire, conjuring again the power between her hands. The captain held his breath and jumped the flickering blaze, shunting the mage, and forcing her arm behind her back. “At first glance, I didn’t suspect you of being of mage blood.”

“What do you know?” Serinda huffed and struggled. She tossed her hair back and glanced to the other men, still fighting. “I’d worry more about your partner than myself.”

Kensley had dropped his broken weapon and had proceeded to try to force Herzeg into submission with kicks and punches. From behind the long-haired man, the forge-hand was preparing a large rock with which to strike him from behind.

Carlyle kicked Gul’s legs out from under him, forcing him to fall hard. Kensley had, in turn, forced Herzeg to a rock, his arm at the man’s neck. “Don’t try and struggle.” Kensley seethed, his breath ragged.

Carlyle pulled his partner away from the now helpless man. “Leave him.”

“But-” Kensley struggled, then relented, looking to the trail of blood coming from Carlyle’s wound.

“Force only begets more force.” The captain declared. He turned back to the pile of supplies and trifled through them with his foot. His eye caught the dull sheen of the uneven bricks of iron. Kensley eyed the others who looked on silently as Carlyle took the hard-earned good up in his side bag. “That shall do. The coming winter is going to make any more work like this unlikely for these folk, I imagine. Come, Kensley.”

The long-haired man huffed and trailed Carlyle out. Herzeg held at his throat and kept place beside the rock. Serinda dashed out after the two enforcers as they began their walk back to the horses.

“Enforcer.” She called out, catching up with them as they were unloading the iron into their packs. “Take me with you. These fools have nothing to offer me now.”

Carlyle looked to Kensley, who warily bit at his lip. The captain glared at her. “How imprudent. We’re headed off to the capital. Are you sure a mage of your sort wishes to end up there?”

“Sir, are you sure?” Kensley said under his breath.

“The capital is indeed my home,” Serinda spoke up, keeping watch over her shoulder. “But not the Sanctum. I beg you.”

Carlyle stepped up upon his horse and looked to the mage, visible only in the slight light of the moon visible through the clouds. He offered a hand down. “Come on. You’re lucky I wasn’t given any direction regarding any magi this time.”

Serinda pursed her lips and stepped up to the animal. “Your kindness is appreciated. There is… they have more billets buried in the bed of the river back at the old camp you found. Herzeg and these awful men do not deserve it. I can show you exactly where it lies.”