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Prologue

"If you had never seen the ice melting, you would not know where the water came from. If you
had never seen History being made, you would never know where you came from."
—Chronicler Janlaniel Kuchaker

There are many legends about the ancient age of our culture. Most of those are almost complete
myth, created by people just to entertain themselves. But some of them are largely based in real
facts and real people. In this chronicle I intend, using a plethora of information not available to
our great bards of old (Like the journal of Marin Treggor, and the logs of the "Cherry Woods'
Knights"), to separate fact from myth, as an alchemist separates gold from rock, using mercury.

The most logical place to start a chronicle is the beginning. But one of the hardest parts of
writing a successful chronicle, is to discover exactly where the beginning is. For the purposes of
this chronicle, the beginning will be Geresmes fourteenth, 524 years after the reign of King
Arthis, the first. So, done with the digression, I shall begin the chronicle.
Geresmes fourteenth was a dark stormy night. King Rikerd VI was wide-awake on his bed,
unable to sleep, unable to wake up. He was tired, tired of all the problems, tired from royalty.
Another rebellion had broke up on the northeastern provinces, and he was sure the Lukavians
were, as always, responsible.

The last thing he needed was another war though. The economy was in shambles after the last
one, and that was because he had won. He glanced at his wife, beside him. They were married
for twenty seven years but he still loved her as much as the first year. And his daughter was
sleeping, with no worries at all on her little bed.

He did this for her, of course. At forty nine he had lived more than most peasants already, it was
not like he would be able to reap the benefits of his work…but she would, and that was what
mattered.

Suddenly, Rikerd heard a sound, or at least he thought he did, the storm was too noisy to be
sure…but it seemed that the old rusty hinges of the antechamber’s door screeched, for a second
or so. He got up from the bed, grabbed his sword (“Hm, heavier than I remember.”) and slowly
peeked around a corner…Suddenly, a bright, blue…something grabbed his head, and a moment
later, it had exploded, making little to no sound.

The queen, however, (either because of the sound, or because of the mystical connection they say
exists between husband and wife) woke up. Before her was the masked and cloaked form of a
man, wearing a seemingly heavy metallic gauntlet on his right hand and with a bright, blue…
something, where his left arm should be. And if this was not enough to put fear in queen Eljabé,
she saw the headless body of a man wearing royal clothes lying on the ground.

Astonished, the queen asked “Wh-what have you done!?”, The man answered in a thick accent
that Eljabé couldn’t identify: “I think I killed your husband.” And laughed.

“Pl-please, d-do what you want with me, just don’t hurt my daughter!”, she glanced at the baby,
still sleeping peacefully.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt her, in fact, I’ll even adopt her after you marry me.”

“Marry you?”, the queen was confused, but before he answered, she already knew why.
According to the old Ruivocan traditions, when one member of the “royal couple” died, and the
surviving member married again, his or her spouse would automatically become king or queen.

“Who…who are you?”. She couldn’t see his face behind the mask, but somehow she knew he
was smiling when he answered: “You can call me king.”

edit Chapter 1
"In the darkest of times, in the bloodiest of battles, in the saddest of funerals, one thing is
certain: People will always find a reason to commemorate."
—Lord Gortinghan
Dark days followed that dark night, for the new king of the Ruivocan kingdom started a massive
expansionist campaign, taking lands from many of the city states of the continent. And even
some from Lukavia.

In order to fund his military campaigns, he raised the taxes over the peasants of the kingdom,
which caused much poverty, hunger and unrest. He was forced to divert soldiers to quell the
rebellions, and that was the only thing that stopped the expansion of Ruivoca, for a time.

Twenty four years had passed, since that dark night. The king expressly prohibited his daughter
to leave the palace, according to him, for her own safety, as there were many assassins and
kidnappers that would love to get her.

Princess Marin however, was not stupid, and knew her father simply didn’t wish to allow her to
see the suffering his policies were causing. The princess wasn’t concerned about the suffering,
though, but she believed, and rightly so, that there was a great chance that, when her father died,
a revolution would break out to take the throne from her.

But at the moment, those worries were off the princess’ mind, replaced by more immediate
worries like: “How can so many boring people be in the same place at the same time and not
bore themselves to death?”, because, at the moment, she was attending to a ball, that her father
allowed her to go because only high class people from over the continent attended to it.

Marin was walking around the hall, holding a glass of wine she had drunk nothing of yet and
searching for a conversation that didn’t sound stupid or tedious. But was unsuccessful until now.
The extravagant, blue and white dress the royal tailors had made for her didn’t make walking
around any easier, though, so she was about to give up when the count of Simen stepped on a
chair and hit his glass with a spoon.

The count of Simen, that had come late to the party (He wasn't even there to see the princess’
entrance), that no guest had ever seen before this ball, and that minutes earlier was talking about
how the king personally invited him to the ball, as his province was the most loyal, most
productive and most beautiful in the entire continent, started to make a speech:

“People! People! Ahem. For those that don’t know me, I am the count of Simen. It’s a province
northwest of here, and belongs to the Yuak kingdom. Anyway, this is the first ball I attend to,
and this is also my first time at this beautiful city, meeting so many interesting and…” he turned
to a brunette he had been speaking with earlier “beautiful people. I do not enjoy making so many
turns and twists while I speak, but I thought I should thank you guys. Anyway, I’ll go straight to
the point.”

At about this point the princess decided she was better off locked in the palace, but it was also
about this point that the count of Simen got out of the chair and stood in front of the door,
continuing the speech: “unfortunately, I have to go. Yes, I know, it is sad. But important matters
arose that need my personal attention. In the meantime…I thank you all very much for
everything you have done to me, and specially for allowing my men to take all that gold that was
in your chests so easily. Regards!”
Saying this, the “Count of Simen” left, closing the door behind him, mounted a mier that was
waiting for him, loaded with gold and silver, and rode as fast as he could into the Cherry Woods.
Unfortunately for him, though, at the moment he had said the word “gold”, the princess, without
thinking twice, ran towards him, tearing her dress apart, in order to run faster.

When he closed the door, she jumped through a window nearby and mounted the first mier she
saw. Thus she was able to follow him, barely not losing sight of him as he went deeper and
deeper into the forest. The forest itself was ghostly and eerie; she could hear strange sounds, very
unlike wind or wild animals. There were scratches that seemed to have been made by claws on
the trees, but they were near the cope of the trees, higher than a human being. And, the scariest
of all were strange blue balls of light that floated near the copes of the trees.

But, nevertheless, Marin pressed on, she sometimes lost sight of the bandit but quickly found
him again. She was not sure if the man had noticed her following, nor did she care, at the
moment, all she thought about was getting the things he stole back. She didn’t notice that with all
the twists and turns they were making, if she ever managed to get the things back, she would
have a hard time going back, not that that mattered, because little after this, she lost sight of him
for good.

edit Chapter 2
"Behind every great man, there's a woman...but that's just because he needed a back rub."
—King Ük, the red

Marin’s mier wandered around in the woods, apparently trying to help, but it also didn’t know
where the man had gone to. After some time thinking, Marin decided to keep going the same
general direction he was going until she found him, or reached the other side of the forest. She
didn’t want to go back with nothing.

After some time, she reached a clearing, in what seemed to be the center of the forest. It was
visible that the clearing was not always there, as various tree stumps were recently cut to make
space for some kind of encampment. She dismounted the mier, tripping and falling into a mud
pool nearby, but quickly recovered, took a dagger that was, for some reason, on the mier and
slowly moved in towards the encampment. She planned to steal part of the gold back and tell
everyone about the bandits’ encampment, but…

“Hey! Will you put your hands where I can see them? Thanks. Who are you? I wasn’t expecting
a girl in underwear…tonight, that is.”. The man she was following had been waiting for her, and
apparently she had ripped a little to much of her dress in order to follow him. “Oh, if it’s not a
problem, can you drop the dagger? You could poke someone’s eye with that.”. She thought about
turning around quickly and stabbing him, but then she felt something cold on her back, ‘’cold as
steel’’. So she hesitantly dropped her dagger.

“Good. Now, would you mind telling me what you came to do here?”. But she remained silent.
They would either kill or kidnap her anyway; she wouldn’t give him ‘’that’’ pleasure. “Oh, you
hurt my feelings. All right, you can go back.”.
Confused, Marin asked: “What?”

“You can go back. You know, get on that mier, and go back to the place you came from.”

“You won’t kill me?”. The bandit assumed a mock-thoughtful expression for a moment and
answered: “Hmm…nah. Nice meeting you, by the way.”. Then he took her dagger, sheathed his
sword and waved his hand while he walked towards the encampment.

But Marin couldn’t leave it at that. “Wait! What…why…?”. And the bandit, visibly upset, turned
around and answered “How are we supposed to get support if we start killing people for no
reason?”, which made Marin even more confused: “Support?”. And that made the bandit even
more upset “Yes! For our movement!”.

But Marin still did not understand. “What movement?”. And the bandit finally gave up and gave
the whole answer. “By Sallund’s holy light, girl! I spared your life, aren’t you satisfied? But,
okay: I am the leader of a group of people that want to overthrow the king and put someone else
in power. We’re not official yet. But as soon as we gather more forces we intend to make a big
rebellion and take him out of the throne…now git.”

But only two things in his speech interested Marin. The first one is that the man didn’t know she
was the princess, and the second being that he planned to overthrow her father…so… “Wait! I
want to help.”. The man sighed and said: “Were you listening when I talked about us being a
revolutionary movement? This is dangerous stuff, so go back to your husband or something.”.

Marin decided to tackle the problem another way: “Alright, I’m going. And when I get there, I’ll
tell ‘’everyone’’ about your little hideout in the woods.”

“Fine by me. We have traps around the camp, our camp is very well hidden and with all the
twists and turns I doubt you know where we are. Besides, we have well trained people here, if
anyone manages to reach us.”

“Look: let me help. I…I know how to handle swords.”, the man assumed a mock admired
expression and said: “Oh wow! Are you serious!? Didja hear that Gilbert? She knows how to
handle swords!”.

Another man, that was hidden behind a tent, answered: “Yes sir. But I believe you should give
her a chance, she could not be that bad.”. The one that seemed to be the leader smiled and said:
“Alright. Bring me two of those wood training swords. Girl, we’ll play a little game.” He took a
hourglass that was on a nearby barrel and, showing it to her, said

“Seeing this sand? I’ll turn this thing around, and it’ll take about five minutes for it to fall back
down. If I don’t manage to take that sword out of your hands three times before the sand falls
back down, you’re in. Otherwise, goodbye. Got it? Oh, there’s Gilbert with the swords.”
Each of them took one sword. They were simple wooden replicas of real swords, only less sharp,
that the soldiers used for melee combat training. Before he turned the hourglass though, the man
asked: “Oh, almost forgot. What’s your name?”

“Pri…scilla. Priscilla Hennel.”

“Okay then Priss, I’m Hobenrûd.”

“Hobenrûd!? ‘’The’’ Hobenrûd? The one that single-handedly won the battle at mount
Kaghorn!?”

“Well, there were five other guys with me, but since they died after the first three minutes or
so…yeah. But let’s talk about that after you win, right? To make it easier for you, I’ll tell you the
direction my attacks will come from, and if I tell it wrong, I’ll lose. Oh, and I’ll also lose if you
take my sword out of my hands at least once.” he said, smirking.

And then, he quickly turned the hourglass over, put it on a nearby barrel and started calling his
strikes:

“Up! Up! Right! Left! Right! Left! Up…wow! Already? Come on! Give me a challenge! Here’s
a hint: You need a stance. You can’t just hold the sword. I personally prefer one foot forward and
the other back, so I can shift the weight in attack and defense.”

She took her sword again, and stood her ground, and held the sword with one hand, this time
with one foot forward and the other back. And Hoben started again:

“Before we start, another hint: “This is a double handed sword. So use both hands to hold it.
Now…Left! Up! Right! Left! Up! Left! Hahah! I could’ve killed you right there! Lucky for you,
I only need your sword. Hint number three: sometimes, a good attack is the best defense. Try to
attack me and make me lose balance.”

She quickly got her sword up and held it tighter. “Come on girl, last chance. Left! Left! Left!
Right! U…”, but this time, something strange happened, instead of trying to block his attack,
Marin evaded it, went behind him before he could recover his equilibrium and kicked the back of
his right knee, making his legs bend and him fall on his knees. Then she tackled him, making he
fall to the ground and drop his sword. Then, before he knew what was happening, she took the
sword and crossed both of them near his neck.

“I got a hint for you: Keep your mind focused. I could have killed you right here, lucky for you, I
only need to get your sword.”. For about three seconds, he kept silent, not yet sure of what had
happened, then he understood and exclaimed, slowly: “You…you were…pretending!”.

“Glad you noticed.”. But he didn’t appear to hear, he just smiled and exclaimed again laughing:
“Did you see that Gilbert!? She was pretending!”.

edit Chapter 3
"A knight shall live by his word. A knight shall not lie. A knight shall not change his mind after
giving his word. A knight shall not act as if the promises he made by impulse are less important
than those he had time to think, for the impulses are acts of Gods."
---Ruivokan code of chivalry, article 23

Hoben slowly stood up, wiped the dust off his cape, turned towards Marin and said: "You
wouldn't have won if I had my guard up, but a deal's a deal. So you're with us now. You'll be
my...Gilbert, what's your title?". The other man, that was until now leaning on a tree, and silently
watching the fight, said: "Subheadmaster, sir."

"Okay, so you're gonna be my vice subheadmaster." Hoben concluded. Somewhat indignant that
her title was decided just like that, the princess asked: "Your what?". Hoben sighed and stated:
"I'm the headmaster, Gilbert's the subheadmaster and you're gonna be my vice subheadmaster.
We're a small organization so I didn't go around trying to find nice titles yet. Now, Gilbert, come
here..."

Hoben lowered his voice to a whisper, so that Marin was unable to hear him when he said "I
don't know if I trust her yet. She was trying to sneak in the camp, she knows how to fight and
she's not dumb. Maybe she's a spy. Take her to the river, give her some clean clothes and then
take her to that unoccupied tent in the west side. I'll stand guard in front of it. If she try to escape,
that's because she's a spy." and completed, raising his voice again: "Gilbert here will take you to
the river, to take all that mud from your body, and then he'll accompany you to your...quarters."

But before she went, she remembered to ask "Wait! Could you at least tell me how did you go
from best soldier in the kingdom to revolutionary? The king said you died.", to which Hoben,
smirking again answered: "The king says a lot of things, some of them are true...And my reasons
are my own, for now.".

While following Gilbert to the nearby stream, Marin noticed he limped a little. "Shouldn't you
get a crutch for that?". Gilbert turned around and, smiling, told her "It's nothing really. Just an
old war wound that comes back to haunt me sometimes. Most of the time I don't even feel it. But
come now, it's almost past midnight."

After she cleaned herself and got some ill fitting clothes, made from some uncomfortable fabric
that made her want to scratch herself from Gilbert (Whom also didn't want to discuss Hobenrûd's
motives), Marin found herself in a small tent (that at least wasn't communitary like most others)
where she had some animal's pelt to sleep on and a iron pot full of water, which she assumed (or
maybe hoped) was for drinking.

It was about then that the princess finally stopped to reflect on what she just done. Do not get me
wrong though, dear reader, I know the job of a chronicler is to recount the important facts and
characters from our history, and not the motives that those characters had to cause those facts.
But I am in a more privileged position than most chroniclers, because, as I said, I have access to
a plethora of previously unknown information.
Thus, the princess finally reflected on her actions until now. And was not sure if joining these
people was an intelligent move. She carefully considered her options while she lied down on the
pelt...her father and her mother had married a little before she was born, and she was twenty
three now. Her father must've been at least twenty when he married her mother. So her father
should have about forty five years. And yet, he didn't seem as if he was any closer to death than
her.

That had probably something to do with his habit of staying locked in his room, full of magical
artifacts she barely understood, but it didn't matter, with so much stress being put on the lower
classes, chances were that they would revolt against her when her father died. And since she
would probably be still establishing her power base, she wouldn't be able to do anything. Now, if
she helped those rebels, not only she would become the queen much faster, but the people would
love her for that.

She was not sure how much of a help she would be to those people, she knew very little of her
father's plans, or any other useful information, but just by being with them would be enough for
all those peasants to think she would be a good queen for them, so "Yes", she must've thought,
"That's the best choice." and slept peacefully until the sun arose again.

I must apologize to whoever is reading this, for I shall make another interruption in the narrative,
but it is for a very good reason, believe me. It seems that it's only now, the morning of the second
day, that I remember to characterize the...well...characters. The reasons I did not do so until now,
is that I intended this book to be read by those with some knowledge of the ancient legends, but
it is only now that I contemplate other possibilities.

Maybe you, my dear reader, believes that this book is the prime source of information about the
old legends, and never even heard of princess Marin. It is also possible that you are from an even
farther future than that I can possibly imagine, and your access to ancient information is limited.
Whatever your reasons are, I believe it is my solemn duty as a chronicler, to satisfy all of your
information needs.

Therefore, I shall give you a brief description of the important characters, as they appear in the
next day. Marin, for example, as you probably imagined, had a normally bright blond hair (I say
normally because there was still a bit of mud on it) and bright blue eyes, that could only
compared to the most rare blue tourmalines, had just finished waking up and preparing herself to
face another day.

When she left her tent, however, she found Hobenrûd, a dark-haired green-eyed man that was not
taller, nor more muscular than most soldiers of our time, but whose extreme ability with the
sword made more dangerous and well-known than any of them, sitting on the ground, leaning
towards some crates of food and apparently sleeping.

She walked towards him, softly slapped his cheek and not-as-softly exclaimed "What in heavens
are you doing there?". Hobenrûd groaned, stretched his limbs, slowly opened his eyes, closed
them again because of the light and said, matter-of-factly: "Why, waiting for you.". Marin
however, quickly noticed the holes in his excuse and stated, in a indignant tone: "Waiting for
me? You were sleeping in front of my tent. You were trying to see if I would escape, weren't
you? Don't you tru..."

"My! Priss, I just thought that it would be nice if I escorted you to our meeting, since you're such
a important member of the crew. Yes, I dozed off there, but that's because you were taking so
long to wake up." Hoben clarified while rubbing his eyes. "Besides, what's the matter if I didn't
trust you after you coming here, in an indecent attire, if I may add, in the middle of the night,
with a dagger? Not that I didn't trust you, of course."

"Well, I-I wouldn't have done that if you didn't-If I didn't see you escaping with tons of gold
from...that party near my house. Why did you take the gold for anyway?" Marin had finally
realized she never asked that. Hoben seemed surprised she didn't realize that for herself when he
said "Well, we need to buy food, we need to buy clothes and it's not like people will donate us
money...or did you think a revolution is made with great men and great ideas? Besides, we only
steal from the nobles, and it's not like they need it or anything."

Marin decided to stay silent for the rest of the short trip towards a wooden pavilion in the middle
of the encampment. She was not sure if there was any house near Lord Montmer estate, which
was where the party was held, but if she told him that she was in the party, he might have
recognized her.

When they reached the pavilion, she immediately noticed two badly made portraits of a masked
man and a woman on the wall, and a large wooden table surrounded by wooden chairs with a
seemingly old map stretched on it. Four weights were on each corner of the map, presumably to
keep it in place and a slim and tall dark-haired man, called Gilbert was sitting on one of the
chairs, with his good leg extended.

When Gilbert saw Marin looking at the portraits, he said to her: "Like it? We found at some
lord's house, a week or so ago.". This made Hoben notice it too, and he completed: "Whenever I
forget why I'm doing this, I look at those and remember how I hate them. It's the king and
his...spawn. Her royal highness, princess Marin.". It was about then that Marin realized it might
not have been an intelligent move to join those people.

edit Chapter 4
"As a rule, plans never work in the long run, for in the long run, all things thought as certain
will have changed and all people thought as loyal will not be."
---Frenciano Rochell, Gran-mayor of Ginalía

Marin tried to think in a way to escape. They had known about her all along, she was in the
middle of the enemy's ground, she had nowhere to run and was unable to go back home, they had
her at their mercy. "So, back to what really matters: Priss, you joined us in a horrible time. But
I'll let Gilbert explain it. He's the brains behind this operation, you know?"
It didn't make any sense. Didn't they know who she was? She gave another look at the portraits
and realized that not even herself would recognize her there, and silently thanked her father for
not allowing her to leave the palace. Her thoughts were interrupted by Gilbert's voice, that
suddenly had changed to a formal, practical and...cold tone.

"Well, as you probably know, no one would love if we overthrew the king more than Lukavia.
The king's expansionism is being a stress on that kingdom for a long time now. The messenger
we sent came back three days ago. King Hollen is willing to send the entire Lukavian military to
help our movement...if, after we win, we become vassals..."

"Which, we cannot do." interrupted Hobenrûd. Gilbert glanced quickly at him with a stern look
and continued "Because if we do, not only we'll lose our little independence, but the people will
surely revolt again. Ruivoca and Lukavia have been rivals for ages already. Therefore, we'll ask
for a smaller help, in exchange of an end for hostilities. But that leaves us with a severe
problem."

"We don't have enough troops." interrupted Hoben again. Gilbert sighed and kept on "Yes. That
is right, we don't. We have considered our options but they are not very good. None of the other
unaligned kingdoms can spare any troops, specially because they would need to traverse enemy
lands to get to us. And, worst of all, the king has support from Sardina and the Holy Order."

Marin remembered something her father had said, "Why don't we get help from Jyptia?", her
father had said that he couldn't get the Jyptians to help him. Hoben exclaimed, smiling: "Hah!
Didn't I tell you the girl was smart? That was exactly what Gilbert suggested. Only he forgot that
the Jyptians allow no foreigner into their kingdom...well, at least no living foreigner."

This time it was Gilbert whom interrupted: "Actually, that's not true. They allow wizards there.".
Which prompted Marin to ask: "So why don't we get a wizard to help us?". Which prompted
Hoben to, smirking, say: "Nice Idea! Do you know any wizard?".

Marin had no choice but to answer: "No...". And Hoben, triumphally said: "Aw shucks. What
we're gonna do now? I propos..." "Wait! I know one." interrupted Marin, this time. "One what?"
asked a disbelieving Gilbert. "A wizard! There's a city that revolted a short while ago. They are
lead by a wizard. Derfel, Dremel...or something like that.".

"Drindell, the arcane? He's possibly the most known wizard of all! He helped us...I mean, the
Ruivocan army at the forty days' war. He summoned a golem with some rocks and sparkling
water from the Girdwell mounts...Are you sure?" asked a even more disbelieving Gilbert. "I am
sure I heard it somewhere." she had heard it from her father, in a meeting she shouldn't be
eavesdropping, but she couldn't tell them that.

"Oh, now that I know you've heard it somewhere, I believe you." said Hobenrûd, in a ironical
tone. "It was from one of the king's soldiers that gone through the city...Lamark I think." she
explained, hoping they couldn't verify this kind of information. Gilbert and Hobenrûd glanced
one another. "Suppose we believe this Lamark guy. If he knew about it, it is because he was
going to quell the rebellion. So Drindell is probably dead."
"No. He said he was just going to siege the city until they give up. The king lost many soldiers
with rebellions, he doesn't want to lose anymore...but he also said the sardinians would be there
too.", this made Gilbert contract his bad leg suddenly. He asked "The sardinians? How many?"

The princess hesitated before answering, truthfully, this time: "I...I don't know.". They all kept
silent.

Hobenrûd shrugged it off and said "Well, it doesn't matter anyway, any sardinan army can defeat
an army twice their size. Even if we managed to get all of our people there without anyone
suspecting where our camp is, we wouldn't have a chance.".

After some more silence, Marin decided to ask "Why don't we...why don't we ask Lukavia to
help us?". After a brief silence, Gilbert looked at her again, as if it was the first time. "...That's...a
great idea! Okay. We have a plan now. We'll send some people to Lukavia, ask for
reinforcements, come back to Ruivoca, help them sally the siege, get the wizard, go to Sumdo,
get help from the dragon riders and...tada! A revolution in seven easy steps."

"This'll take months! And what you mean by seven easy steps? If we manage to get any help
from Lukavia, if we manage to sally the siege and if we manage to get the wizard to take us to
Sumdo, we'd still have to convince the dragon riders to help us, and no one ever did that." said
Hobenrûd.

Gilbert sighed "Aren't you always telling me to be optimistic? And besides, we'll surely get help
from Lukavia, because we aren't going to send a messenger this time. You'll go personally.".
"Hey, hey! When did we decide that?"

"Right about now. I'm the brains behind this operation remember? You should take the girl
though, she won't stand being around doing nothing until you come back." added Gilbert. Hoben
glanced at Marin. "Oh well, it sounds like a good plan. But we should bring some people, in case
we get into trouble. Give me five men and two carts, so I can disguise as a trader, and I'll come
back with your wizard.".

"That's the plan." said Gilbert, smiling and getting up from his chair.

Chapter 5
"The most profitable endeavors are usually those that start humble."
---The merchant of Vanizzia

"And I thought you were the boss here." said Marin in a less than respectful tone. They were
hopping around on a cart that was used for transporting goods, (but that now was transporting
five people disguised as travellers and other two disguised as merchants) pulled by the two
reptilian beasts. "Well, I said I was the leader, not the boss. A leader is a guy that inspires other
people to do their bidding, a boss is a guy that actually has a bidding for other people to do. But I
like to think we decide things together, me and Gilbert." Hobenrûd whispered to her, in a tone
low enough so that the other five people wouldn't hear. After a brief silence, he added, very
louder: "So shut up, wench."

Marin rolled her eyes and looked around. She was already feeling bored. If there was something
she didn't enjoy was travelling. Everyone she knew loved to talk about how travelling is good
and seeing new things is amazing. But they seem to forget just how...boring it was. She didn't
mind seeing new places and all that, but it would take ages for her to reach there.

Trying make time pass faster, she decided to ask something that was bothering her for some
time: "How do you know we're going in the right direction? It looks like we're going in circles.",
soon after, however, she regretted having asked, since it made Hobenrûd smirk again: "See the
scratches on the trees? They form a path, full of twists, so that no one can follow us, between the
three towns near the forest and the camp. One scratch is the path to Halhm, two scratches is
Munber and three is Jointsville. They also serve to make everyone think the forest is dangerous
and leave us alone. Like the fluorescent balls and the wind flutes."

"The what?", Marin asked, suddenly interested. "We spread rumours that this forest is haunted,
so that the people will leave us alone. The scratches were my idea. Gilbert used a liquid made by
some trees near Gulge inside glass balls. This liquid, I'm not sure why, ask Gilbert 'bout that, gets
bright at night, so everyone thinks they see ghosts. And this other guy, Keaton, he helped us
build some big wooden flutes that, when the wind go through them, make the weirdest sound I've
ever heard. It works wonders."

One of the soldiers on the cart, named Jarek, hesitated for a second before adding: "Keaton was
my brother. We were musicians, until he made a song denouncing the king...He sent soldiers that
killed our family and we...we barely escaped. A friend of ours told us about the Cherry Wood's
Knights, so we came here...he died a month ago of some coughing disease.". He gripped the
dagger hidden in his jacket a little stronger and his eyes watered.

Marin stopped looking at him and turned to the path ahead. She thought that this was starting to
get too personal, and decided to focus in finding a way of gaining Hobenrûd's trust; enough trust
that he wouldn't kill her as soon as she revealed who she was. For she hadn't given up of her plan
yet. She still wanted to get the rebels to help her to get the throne.

Soon the landscape changed dramatically as they reached the wide open greeneries of the Eastern
Plains. Small herds of wild bovines could be seen on the horizon and a cloudless sky announced
that that day would be good. Another soldier, called Gangee, exclaimed behind Marin "Hey! It's
a flock of Glumbelies. People say they're a sign of good fortune.".

Marin looked at the sky, six little blue points flew in a V formation, due west. "Even if those
really are Glumbelies, people only say that they're a sign that there's food nearby." said another
soldier, Humd. Gangee responded by saying: "Well, where I come from, food nearby is good
fortune.".

They went in the direction of the Northen Mountains for several minutes, until they found a dirt
road. They followed it through the highlands and soon they were in the village of Halhm. Halhm
was a small trading stop between the western part of the continent and the port city of East
Gormenor. Most of the village's income came from buying and selling products from merchants
and to merchants that passed through there, and the village's seven warehouses and two trading
posts were, apart from the small subsistence agriculture and the local pub, the only source of jobs
to the villagers. Hoben stopped the cart near the local pub, the "King's High Brewery", and told
the others "Okay, folks, go buy some supplies, me and Priss will take care of the scaring."

The scaring?" Marin asked. "I told you already, we spread rumours about the Cherry Woods to
keep people away. Look, just follow my drift." He entered the pub and looked around. It was a
seedy establishment and, no doubt, the meeting place of the Red Wolves gang, that controlled the
local black market. The tables, bar, barstools and chairs were made from badly crafted lumpy
wood, the floor was covered in wooden planks, and, contrary to all safety rules, a fireplace,
currently unlit, but that the black walls announced to have been lit recently.

When Hoben entered, the loud sounds of many people talking at the same time stopped, and all
the eyes in the room turned to him. Seeing this, he exclaimed "Blimey! I'll never ever get near
that Sallund dammed forest again! It was the most dangerous trip I've ever had to do. Wolfmen!
Flying manhunting beasts! Ghostly whisperings! And even undead! Undead, I said!". Almost all
people in the room laughed, but kept to look at him. "Even though I courageously did my best to
follow the shortcut through Cherry Woods and lead those travellers to their destinies, I admit I
faltered many times. If it were not for the encouragement of my love for this woman, I would
have given up at the third attack by the wolfmen! Isn't it right darling?"

Marin looked at him, wide eyed, looked at the other people, and then looked at her feet. "Y-
yeah...yeah...i-it was...that, yes.". Hobenrûd climbed a nearby table and continued: "I felt like the
great adventurers of the past, fighting countless monsters!" He was fencing with an invisible
sword, against a foe made of thin air. "Monsters so horrible that can't be named! Luckily, the
travelers with me were great adventurers of the present, and in a joint effort we managed to
destroy the black crystal that gave life to those horrors!"

Hoben got down from the table and sat near Marin again. He seemed to remember something:
"Oh, but it is not over yet. Seconds after we destroyed the crystal, a witch appeared and told us
that she would create another one, even more powerful, and all those that travelled the Cherry
Woods would serve to feed her horrible creations! ...Bloody hell, I talked so much my throat is
dry. Barkeeper! A Kleigen Madness, will ya? What you'd like darling?"

Marin, that was too interested on her feet to look up, answered: "Ju-just water.". She then rose
her eyes to look at Hoben's face, and whispered: "Did you really need to exaggerate that much?".
He drummed his fingers at the table and whispered back: "Oh, what're talking about? They loved
it. Last time I did that, they given me drinks for free."

Seconds later, the barkeeper brought the drinks to their table, which was uncommon at that time,
and said, smiling "For you two, it's on the house. Wish you luck in your next adventure.". Marin
went wide eyed again. Hobenrûd smirked, lifted his cup and exclaimed: "Cheers!"
edit Chapter 6
"All laws are made to give people entertainment and wealth in breaking them. No law is made to
give people scarcity and suffering in abiding by them. That applies, except for everyone else."
---joke by those who frequent the underground market

Hobenrûd sat contentedly, having drank his pewter cup in a single gulp, and it now lay empty on
his table, untouched, while he talked with the people sat on a nearby table. It was difficult for
Marin to listen to their talk amidst all the raucous noise of the pub, so for most of the time she
kept seated on the lumpy bench, with her cup near her mouth, slowly sipping peacefully from it;
and, sometimes, if she cared, contributing with a monosyllabic word or two in Hobenrûd's
conversation.

A woman that was seated at the other side of the pub got up and walked towards the table the
two of them were sitting on. She politely interrupted the conversation and asked Hobenrûd to
follow her out of the pub.

Hobenrûd remembered that he was supposed to act as if Marin were his wife, so he started telling
the newcomer, "Uh...sorry, but I have a wife and...", but she interrupted him by whispering "N-
no. It's not for that! It's...it's very important." The woman had such a downcast look that
Hobenrûd realized that something serious really had happened, or was going to happen, and
giving a last look at Marin (who nodded for him to go on), walked outside, accompanied by the
woman, telling Marin that he was going to be right back.

They stayed outside for a minute or two, and Marin noticed that the woman was talking and
crying at the same time.

After Hobenrûd had returned, Marin asked him what the other woman wanted. He took his cup
and rolled it between his hands, while he answered, "What? ...Oh, nothing really. She just said I
am a great adventurer and asked me to save her kid from some slave-traders."

"Oh, that's nothing?" Marin gave him a meaningful look. "Wow, you ARE a bit crude!"

"But hey, it's none of my business, and anyway I don't even know where her child is by now!"

"Well, we can spend some time looking around." one of the soldiers managed in reply.

Then their other partner joined into the conversation. "That may actually not be a bad idea,
Hoben. If we help her, who knows, maybe the woman will be able to help us out too, convincing
the others to join us when we rebel!". Hobenrûd sighed, thought for a second, and said: "All
right...But no swashbuckling! If we find him, we'll just buy him out...and let's not lose a lot of
time with this, okay? We still need to reach Lukavia."

The group paid for the drinks and left the pub. They decided to spread, so that they would cover
more ground in their search for the boy. After half an hour, they returned from the search and
met back at the pub--empty-handed.
Marin was the first to speak: "I found the mother again. I told her we can't find the boy. She
apologized for having "bothered" you..." she glared at Hobenrûd while saying this. "And said she
would see if she could get enough money to buy her son back herself..."

"Well, the problem is solved then." said Hobenrûd, matter-of-factly. The others in his group
thought he didn't really seem to care for that woman's well-being.

"Well...almost," Marin interrupted. "She... well, she said she discovered where he was, but didn't
have the money to buy him... and then she started crying. S-so I... I told her we would get him
back to her safely," Marin finished, stammering.

Hobenrûd couldn't help but to exclaim "Aw, come on! We can't waste time like this! Drindell
won't hold out forever!"

"What else could I have said? I mean, she was crying! And I don't mean sobbing. I mean
crying!" Marin exclaimed in response.

Hobenrûd sighed, gave the matter a moment of thought, and stated, more calmly: "All right. Let's
get that kid saved already." Even while he said it, he appeared more concerned with the time.
"Let's make this fast. Then we'll have to double our travelling speed."

Gangee seemed surprised at this, "Don't you care about that woman?". Hobenrûd turned towards
him, and stated; in a more serious tone: "Look, it's not that I don't care about her. It's just...it's
just that saving her kid won't be of much good if Drindell is dead. We are this close to finally
being free of the king. We can't waste time with trifle matters...I do care about her...and that's
exactly the reason I must reach Lukavia. Fast."

He told the others to get some of the gold they brought with them to pay for the boy and departed
to a decrepit-looking building in the far northeastern side of the village. The building seemed to
be unoccupied, but loud voices could be heard inside. Hobenrûd slowly, but strongly, knocked at
the door, and, seconds later, a wooden panel slid to the right and two eyes were looking at them.
The bodiless eyes asked: "Give me the passcode.".

Hobenrûd backed from the door and whisperingly asked Marin: "What is the passcode?"

"She didn't tell me about any passcode," Marin answered in the same tone.

The bodiless eyes on the other side of the door rolled and a hand appeared through the wooden
panel, rubbing a finger in the other, while the bodiless eyes clarified: "Don't you understand? The
'passcode'."

Hobenrûd rolled his eyes, took out a golden cup from Jarek and showed it to the eyes. Moments
later, the door was open and they entered the 'headquarters' of the Red Wolves. The decrepit
appearance of the building was more than confirmed when they saw the interior. It was a
crowded, bad smelling, rotting wooden building that sagged from the weight of many years of
wearing, so that one would surmise that only by direct intervention of the Gods didn't fall to the
ground.

There were various products in countless shelves, stands and on carpets. Illegal products, that is.
Liom Weed (That only the poor addicts really spent some money on), jewelry (Now that's
better), stolen Sardinan art (now those look like something worth stealing), and, of course,
slaves. And by the number of clients currently in, the Red Wolves probably made a lot of money
doing it.

The group of aspiring rebels quickly went to a section of the building with an iron cage, or pen.
Full of people with their hands grasping the immobile iron bars. They were mostly people that
couldn't pay their debts with the Red Wolves, but also some people that were kidnapped for no
particular reason, except that the policing forces don't usually do nothing to stop it.

"What are we getting into," muttered Marin. "This place is a disaster."

edit Chapter 7
"I do not fear a powerful man. But I do fear those that fear him."
---Drindell, the arcane

A rather muscular man in good-looking clothes, obviously well fed, and with two full scabbards
on his belt, came lumbering towards them, a smile on his face, expectant of some business to do.
He took a deep, understanding glance at the group, and made an educated guess on why they
were here.

"Greetings, my good sire! Methinks you are searching for a good, hard-working pair of arms to
carry your armour around, am I not right? Or maybe the lass just needs someone to clean the
house? No matter what you be searching for, us Red Wolves can provide it. For a nominal fee, of
course," said the slave trader, enthusiastically.

"Actually, a friend of mine has told me that you have taken her kid earlier today. I would like to
have him back, if that is not asking too much." answered Hobenrûd, somewhat apologetically.

The vendor slowly rubbed his own chin preparing a reply, while simultaneously looking at
Hobenrûd's bracelet for a second or two.

Then he answered, bluffing: "I am truly sorry, sire, but a lifelong client of mine has shown
interest in the boy already, and I always keep my deals. But I see you have an astounding jewel
there on your wrist. If you would be so willing as to part with it, I would gladly offer you the boy
in return..."

"I am also sorry," interrupted Hobenrûd, "but this jewel is family heirloom, I can't give it to you.
Would you be interested in six or seven golden spoons?"
The vendor paused, considering. He was practised with such things, and knew that his customers
could not be pressed too much for a price. Yet he would try to get the best deal possible. "Six or
seven golden spoons would not be enough recompense for half a slave, sire." he replied, rather
easily, but clearly bluffing, sounding nervous. "But I truly am interested... What else do you have
to offer?", he added, slapping his hands three times, looking at some point behind them.

Hobenrûd looked at Marin. "You have anything on you that you can part with?"

She gave him a shy look back, and reached into her purse...all she had was a gold, four silver and
several copper coins and a dagger. She told him so. Hoben raised his hands to the air while
exclaiming: "Well, I give up then! We can't spend all our gold now. We'll need to buy food. Tell
that woman..."

Another vendor (A much stronger-looking one) appeared out of nowhere and grabbed
Hobenrûd's wrist. "Say... Nice jewel you got there. In fact, a good client of ours was looking for
one just like that, isn't that right, Wallton?"

The slave trader grinned, revealing a golden tooth. "Yes. Gold bracelet with a large red stone,
and little black glyphs carved on it."

The second ventor continued: "He has expressed quite an interest in it, indeed! A generous
interest. So, I recommend that you accept this fair deal I have for you: this jewel for the boy, or
anyone else here for that matter."

Wallton grinned. "I guess I ought to stay out of this, but beware, customer, he's quite strong.
Against him, I suppose that you have really little choice but to accept any deal he offers." Then
he smiled even more. "...Or my friend will be forced to break your arm to get it."

"Really, I can't give you this," replied Hobenrûd to the second Red Wolf. "So, please, just leave
me alone, and I'll go away. You can keep the boy. I don't want any blood shed."

The vendor appeared to think for a second, then replied: "Umm... NO!". The bulkier Red Wolf
twisted Hobenrûd's arm, pried the bracelet open, and pulled it off, while simultaneously shoving
him to the ground.

Hobenrûd got up, recalling what the bracelet stood for, and angrily said: "Give me this back. You
can keep the boy." At the same time he was getting into a fighting pose.

The vendor chuckled, and answered: "Yes, I'll keep the boy. And your jewel."

The next few things happened so fast that Marin nearly couldn't see it. Hobenrûd tackled the
strong man, took the man's sword from his scabbard, and slashed the blade into his gut. The Red
Wolf fell on the ground, bleeding and dying, gasping in pain, and struggling futilely to get back
up.
Hobenrûd took the bracelet back from the fallen brawler and rather contentedly, without
demonstrating any worries for his surroundings but ready for another engagement, put back in its
place on his own arm.

Jarek and the other soldiers unsheathed their swords and stood, facing the crowd. Prepared to
defend themselves against any attacker. The other gang members in the area looked toward the
commotion, but seeing the man riddled in agony, decided it would be better not to interfere.

edit Chapter 8
"For whom is it well, oh, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well."
---Popular saying among the Ruivocan commoners

But then something made them have to interfere. Hobenrûd demanded, "Open the pen and let
them all free."

"What? Why should we?" retorted another Red Wolf, bringing out his scimitar at the same time.

"Oh, want to settle this with blood, eh?"

"Well you started it, customer!" he replied.

"You'll feel sorry for--" Hobenrûd did not finish his sentence, as the next moment a powerful jolt
of pure, sizzling electricity pierced the charged air, sending Hobenrûd reeling to the wall, but still
with his hand tightly grasping his sword. His golden bracelet felt particularly warm. "What was
that?" But Hobenrûd had no time to figure out.

Then he noticed that yet another Red Wolf, farther away from him, covered in flowing robes,
had brought out a long, slender golden rod, with a gem embedded into its endpoint. There was an
expression of surprise on the wizard's face, however.

The next moment all three warrior Red Wolves had jumped toward Hobenrûd. Gangee and Jarek
quickly entered the fray, their own shining blades at ready, lashing two and fro across the
battlefield. The melee continued for quite a while, with Hobenrûd in the midst of it all, and the
group too close together all the time for the wizard standing in the corner to be able to put in
another blast with his lightning-rod. Meanwhile, Princess Marin edged toward the wizard, but
still veiled in comparable dimness, waiting for the right moment.

Then, one of the Red Wolves was slain, with a long bloody gash on his thigh, and toppled to the
ground screaming and delirious. The others took some time to retreat, and backed off slightly.

"Afraid of me?" taunted Hobenrûd, as Gangee, Jarek, and three other soldiers returned to his
side.
The next moment the wizard was chanting another incantation, but Marin brought her dagger
upward toward the wizard's neck, forcing him to break off from his attempted spell in a gasp of
shock. "Enough's enough, wizard," she challenged. "Now drop your artifact."

The wizard gave her a sidelong glance, and before she could respond, thrust an elbow into her
breast. A near miss to the solar plexus, it did very little but infuriate her, and she lunged at him,
just as he backed out of the way.

The next moment one of the Red Wolves lurched back to the two, brandishing his sword
threateningly and making the undercover princess step back in alarm.

The wizard prepared to attack with another incantation, but right before he finished, Hobenrûd
had tossed his bracelet to Marin, who caught it. The bolt of charged energy went straight for the
bracelet--and was immediately absorbed. Not half stunned, the wizard then uttered another
incantation, and fired at Hobenrûd and his allies. One of them took the blast and started
spasming, screaming, stuttering, at the top of his lungs, onto the ground.

In a last hope, Marin tossed the bracelet, like a frisbee, aiming straight at the wizard's temple.
The impact knocked him out.

The two remaining Red Wolves gave up, dropping their swords to the ground, and were soon
being guarded by Hobenrûd's soldiers. Jarek helped the fallen man back onto his weak feet, and
pronounced that he would need quite a bit of rest for at least a few days, much to Hobenrûd's
dismay.

Hobenrûd turned towards the pen and broke the rusted bolt of the pen with a mighty slash of the
sword. "All of you. You're free. Go back to your families, and then leave the village as soon as
possible. Somewhere they can't find you."

"Wow, looks like we discovered quite some treasure," remarked Gangee, his head probably
whirring with plans for how to use them.

Marin retrieved the enchanted bracelet and returned it to Hobenrûd, and took the stranger's
enchanted lightning-rod to be her own "treasure" from now on, thinking it would be of some use.

The vendor was unarmed, but still, he managed to protest: "What in... You can't do that! I paid a
lot money for them!"

Hobenrûd grabbed him by the clothes and brought his short sword to the man's neck. "Well I just
Did. If I ever hear you kidnapped someone again... I'll cut your legs and let you bleed to death."
Deciding he was done with him, Hobenrûd let him go and turned to leave.

He remembered one thing: "And tell that client, that if he wants this stone, he comes and gets
it.". He dropped the sword on the ground.
Then the seven of them--Hobenrûd, Gangee, Marin, Jared, and the three other soldiers--left the
dilapidated building, only now even more so after the battle and bloodshed.

edit Chapter 9
"The greatest glories of mankind were achieved with the lowliest of intentions; the most terrible
dictators always meant so well! Good and Evil live side by side, for one would mean nothing
without the other."
---Lord Gortinghan

They kept silent until they reached the cart, when Gangee said "And I thought you said no
swashbuckling.". But Hobenrûd didn't answer. And so all seven of them kept silent for a long
time, while they travelled northeast, towards Lukavia. But after half an hour, Marin couldn't hold
back anymore.

"What was that? How did the bracelet protect us from that magic?" she asked. But they all kept
silent. She decided to insist. "Come on! I saved your lives back there, knew that?". Hobenrûd
paused, before answering: "I don't know. A guy gave me this thing when I saved his life. Maybe
he didn't even know that it was magical. Maybe he just thought it was pretty. But let's just say he
repayed me saving his life. With interest."

Marin looked at the staff she was carrying, hesitated for a moment, and asked: "Does this thing
work like that too?". He looked at it, and answered that "I don't know. Probably not. I'm not an
expert in this kind of things, but I did have magical potions, in the war. We had regenerative
potions, anti-fatigue potions, so I guess they're all kinda different.".

Marin rolled the rod on her hands, and looked at the jewel at the tip. It was cyan, and had red
glyphs carved on it. "Is the gem the source of...that? Or the glyphs". Hobenrûd shrugged and
said: "All I know is that this thing has helped me a lot lately, Priscilla. And as long as it keeps
working, I don't care how it works.".

"Hmpf...I think I should ask Drindell about this." stated Marin, giving up. "Yes, I think you
should. Assuming he isn't dead already.". Marin felt her heart fall down to her stomach. "I...I
didn't want to...". "No, no...I-I didn't mean that it would be your fault. The three hours we lost
won't make a difference...and besides, we're not even sure if Lukavia will accept helping us." he
clarified, apologetically.

Marin didn't show that this affected her, but yes, she felt better with that. "Although...", he added,
smirking again "When I'm finished talking to them, they'll be begging to help us.".

And thus the party kept on, and although many tales are told of how they killed dragons, saved
villages, defeated black knights and destroyed towers; I could find no proof of that. So, to keep
within the historical parameters I set to myself, I will skip to the next undeniably true fact: After
travelling for almost a week, they finally reached the capital of Lukavia, Fafner.
Differently from the various villages and hamlets scattered throughout the countryside, Fafner is
a bustling financial and commerce hub. The city itself is set out in a somewhat circular form,
with one-story buildings in the outskirts, where the peasants lived. The buildings, however, get
increasingly higher and more beautiful as one moves toward the center of the city, some with
four stories! And then, in the center of the circle, a towering white marble palace, surrounded by
parks, statues, canals and artificial lakes. That some travellers describe as "the most marvelous
sight on Hur".

Since the time they were able to see the city over the hills until they entered into it, all seven of
them were astounded with the view of the city, except for Marin and Hulleiman, a thin, dark-
haired man, that lived in the capital of Ruivoca. Since the two cities competed to see who would
gain the title of most beautiful so long ago, all the inhabitants of Ruivoca's capital hated Fafner
for "stealing" the title.

As the cart entered the seedier outskirts of the city, they could smell the dirtiness that pervaded
everything, from the dust in the very air around them to the alleys, where beggars, covered in
animal fur, sat, motionless...and the beggars themselves. Of course, the impoverished outer rim
of Fafner did not exist long ago. The auburn haired twin soldiers, Namar and Byon, looked
around, to the dirty cats slowly jumping from run-down houses to another, to the flies flying
around the trash cans around the neighborhood and to the trash that littered the middle and the
sides of the street.

But, travelling further into the city, the stench in the air began to wane, the buildings were now
painted, and bigger; some cleaners could be seen on the streets, and the beggars nearly
disappeared. And things improved steadily, until they saw the familiar symbol of the Holy Order
of Sallund, (a circle within a larger circle, with the words "Bring light to the dark corners of the
world. Bring light to the dark minds of man" inscribed along the circumference) decorating the
entrance arch of one of their grand temples.

That marked the beginning of the richest section of the city, the reason the city is remembered as
the most marvellous on Hur.

This is where the nobles and the richer merchants that lived in the city had their homes. No, their
palatial manors. The marketplace, differently from the other two in the city, was specialized in
luxury goods. This is where the tastiest, high quality food was sold, while the peasants had to
accept the rest. This is where the only legalized Money Lender establishment in the town worked
(Under protest from the Holy Order), not that others didn't work in small banks near the market.

With no time to waste anymore, they quickly reached the palace gates, where two men wearing
blue painted full plate armour greeted them. "What are your names? What do you wish inside the
palace?" they asked, bringing their pikes at a horizontal position. Hobenrûd quickly answered
"We are but simple merchants from afar, that wish to bring wealth and green rubies to your most
noble king.".
The guards relaxed and said: "Go on in. I didn't know you'd come back so quickly.". As they
entered the marble corridors, Marin asked "Green rubies?". Hobenrûd rolled his eyes, sighed, and
said: "I don't choose my passwords."

Chapter 10
"Where there is a will, there is a way. Where there is a will, there is a way to fail."
---Two sides of the same proverbial argument

They proceeded through the hallway that ended with an arch (Where the coat-of-arms of the
king's family was carved), that marked the entrance hall of the palace. As they passed under the
arch, one of the two sword-wielding soldiers stationed at the sides of the entrance started
following them. Marin now understood why none of the spies sent to assassinate Lukavia's king
returned. The security of this place was amazing.

Once they climbed the main stairs and reached the entrance of the audience room, the guards on
both sides of the entrance slowly pushed the massive, beautifully carved mahogany double doors
aside and entered in front of them. Then the guards stood by the marble columns on the sides of
the room, while two other guards stood beside the man that regally sat on the tall mahogany
throne.

The Cherry Wood Knights, upon entering the fabulous room, quickly knelt down before his
Majesty, King Hollen, the third, of Lukavia, and his wife, both surrounded by an entourage of
well over a dozen golden-trimmed, iron-plated palace knights. King Hollen was already showing
signs of age, but still took great care of his appearance. His short sand-coloured hair was
perfectly cut. And his royal red mantle cascaded down to the floor.

"Well, who do we have here?" bellowed the King, rubbing his chin--he obviously did not
consider Hobenrûd so important as to remember his name and appearance. But, of course, for
him, Hobenrûd was just a rebel. A rebel that could help him, but a rebel nonetheless.

"I am Sir Hobenrud, your majesty," he replied, with his head down, while the others remained
silent. Marin had no idea where this conversation would go.

"Ah yes!" the King recalled. "Hm, let's see, last time... you sent a messenger here. You wanted
help in overthrowing the Ruivocan king, correct? And we offered to send my entire military to
your aid, provided that you would afterward proclaim an oath of fealty to us. Have you arrived at
a decision?"

"We hope to settle for at least some of your forces, your majesty. We probably would not need
your entire army, and only ask for a regiment or two. And then, provided that we succeed, we'll
make a treaty."

The King was not too pleased. "So. You won't accept an oath of fealty. Does that mean--?"
Hobenrûd looked at him "Oh no, your majesty, we still hope to be very strong allies. It's just that
it would be impossible for such a revolution to succeed on the terms you desire, as the peasants
would simply overthrow us again!"

"Very well." replied the king, leaning towards him a little. "You shall have three regiments,
nothing more." which caused the Cherry Wood Knights to glance at the king sideways. Three!?
"Of course! You're our allies, and we won't let you fail! And, of course, we will be benefited by
this as much as you... but of course you don't expect to win this war with only our forces, do
you? As much as We liked your idea... We can't send my people to their certain deaths."

It was Marin that replied this time: "Of course not, your majesty. Actually, we already have a
plan that will virtually guarantee our victory. We plan to ask direct assistance from the dragon
riders of Jyptia... but the only man that can take us there is under attack by the king's forces in
Pulti. So..."

"So you want our men to aid you in this battle, so that you can get more support?" interjected the
King, now becoming more interested. "Could work. And it would be the perfect test of your
trustworthiness. We have decided." Hollen then nodded to one of his knights.

"Yes, my lord," he whispered, before promptly vanishing out a back entrance on an immediate
errand for the royalty.

"I have done all I have been asked. Now it's time for you to comply your part of the deal. Anita
will probably be in the barracks, right from the palace's entrance. It's a wide, short building.
Tonight you rest, and tomorrow, you depart. I do not easily trust foreigners, don't make me regret
it."

Hobenrûd stood back up and bowed, as the others did the same, speaking the classic "Yes, your
highness". Then they all turned around and left the audience room, escorted by a pair of guards
in armor entirely washed in white paint.

"Hmm, I've got to get me one of 'hese!" exclaimed Hobenrûd, scrutinizing the trimmed plate
mail on the guard, and imagining himself in that attire. The king took note of this, smiling.

And so, as most of the Cherry Woods Knights betook some sleep, Hobenrûd went to Marin's
sleeping bed, woke her up and silently gestured for her to follow him outside. "I haven't been
here for some time now. Since we managed to conquer this city in the war. For three days we
were stationed here. Pillaging, destroying...some of us raping. It was as if an age worth of hate
was allowed to flow freely. But then the counterattack came, and we had to retreat. It's a wonder
they managed to rebuild."

"Oh. Can I go back to bed now?" said Marin, unimpressed. Hobenrûd frowned, before saying:
"You wanted to know why I'm doing this. I guess I can tell you now." as he sat on a nearby
bench. Marin was a little surprised, but that meant he was trusting her more now, and that was
what she wanted.
He started speaking, looking at the artificial lake in front of them. "You know that I was a soldier
for the King until three months ago, right?". Marin nodded. "At first all we did was conquer
foreign lands, but the king needed money to fund his wars. So he raised the taxes. This, coupled
with the war stress and the already miserable conditions of most peasants, caused revolts. So we
had to stop fighting the other kingdoms and start fighting our countrymen."

Marin sat down beside him, looking at the lake. "And we did. To protect order, to protect the
nobles, to protect the king we...we killed many countrymen. Gilbert was on my platoon, by the
way. He had been a strategist for the king, but was demoted, because he said our prisoners of war
needed a better treatment. I think the king wanted him to die. The man has little to no combat
experience. But that was until three months ago, when we were sent to quell a revolt in a small
countryside village. Daor."

He paused. Marin looked at him. His voice had faltered for a second. Hesitatingly, he continued:
"It was an easy "battle". The villagers were using pitchforks, and we had longswords. The
villagers were wearing ragged clothes, we had plate armour. The villagers were on foot, we had
cavalry. After ten minutes, they had given up. But, still, the commander picked ten children and
put them in the middle of the village. Under direct orders of the king, I have heard. He told us to
kill them, as an example."

"Some of us killed without hesitation, others killed after a little prodding...like Gilbert. He
refused to kill the one the commander told him to. The commander took an arrow and pierced his
leg with it. He screamed with pain, and, dragging himself while the commander kicked him, he
killed the girl. I...I did nothing to stop them. When the commander yelled at me to kill my kid...I
turned around and instead stabbed the commander... several times, with my sword."

Marin glanced at him again, doing her best not to appear moved by his story, but increasingly
wondering why she was trying to hold it all in. "So you saved the kid? It was him that gave you
that bracelet, wasn't he?" "He looked away from her, and spoke, somewhat angrily: "That doesn't
matter! You don't understand? I could've killed the commander before, I could've killed the other
soldiers, I could've saved the kids and I could've not attacked the village in the first place! I could
have saved the kids. But I didn't!"

"Maybe you could. Maybe not. But doesn't matter anymore. It's past, you can't change it." said
Marin, trying to console him and his deep guilt.

Hobenrûd looked back at her. His eyes were teary. "It matters. And that's why I'm doing this.
That's why I need to save all the other kids that'll die if I do nothing. Anyway... I... I just wanted
you to know."

He sighed, got up and went back into the barracks, now partially relieved of all the psychological
stress that this had been on his mind for so many years, before waking up again ere the dawning
of the first shafts of light, with one of the most fulfilling nights they had had for a long time.

edit Chapter 11
"A lie is a like a snowball rolling down the snowy hills of time. It will be noticed."
---Wise words of the sages

By morning Hobenrûd had awakened at last, and after ablution, walked out into the sunshine to
come face to face with the three promised regiments, which had entirely filled the palatial front
court with their dazzling array of scintillating armor. Princess Marin and the other rebel Knights
were chatting happily with a beautiful young lady who was holding a meter-long, delicately
beautiful, gilded fan.

"Ho there! Who are you?" asked Hobenrud, as the others took notice.

"She's Miss Anita Andalora, the general." Byon introduced.

Hobenrud gave him a long stare, mouth wide open. "You mean to tell me--"

"Yes, a woman warrior is leading this army, Hoben."

"Great... Anyways, as long as she knows how to fight, she'll be good enough of a commander--"

"She doesn't know how to fight, Hoben."

"WHAT???" What the heck is a person who didn't know how to fight doing, leading an army?

"Whatever, you'll soon enough find out why for yourself..." Which left Hobenrud more than a bit
confused.

Byon continued with his introduction. "She and Priscilla are already good friends, judging from
their conversation." Hobenrûd took one more glance at the two women and nodded. "I tell you
Byon, you put a girl near another and and come back a minute later. They're friends already." He
whispered.

One of the lieutenants in the newly formed army, all dressed in shining armor, trotted up to
Hobenrud and offered him a set of silvery armor and a mier. "For you." he indicated "The king
expects every thing is as you wish. Know that these regiments will only aid you liberating
Pindul. They will remain stationed there until you do as you said and bring the dragon riders.".

Hobenrûd nodded and spent the next ten minutes getting into his armor, while everyone else
simply relaxed and wasted away their time.

At long last, he was finished. "All right, well since everyone's here, let's move," Hobenrud
shouted while riding his mier to the three regiments of rank and file troops before them.
"Destination: Pulti."

And thus, they departed on what would turn out to be yet another leg of a very long journey.
It didn't take long before Hobenrûd to question if Hollen sent more than three regiments, for it
seemed as if there were more than three thousand troops here, and each regiment should have
had only one thousand. They had been bloated in number. No doubt these were also very well
trained, possibly the best trained that Hollen had. And to think that Hobenrûd might have gotten
away with just a thousand troops... The King certainly did know what he wanted to accomplish.
But then again, they'd probably need all those extra men to take on the Sardinians.

"So," Hobenrûd began at last, after having spent an hour riding before the army on the road to
Pulti. "Are we going to come up with a name for this army?"

"It's the Lukavian Expeditionary Revolutionary Army," said Miss Andalora matter-of-factly. It
took several seconds to say. She didn't seem to like the name.

"Uh huh, don't you think that's quite a mouthful?" said Hobenrûd, closing her mier nearer to hers.

"Well I was wondering why not just call it the Cherry Wood Knights." Marin suggested.

"Oh, because they're not from Cherry Wood anymore," Jarek (that thanked the Gods for a mier,
since he was still a little affected by the lighting) pointed out.

"Okay, so let's call it something else. And keep it short," returned Anita Andalora.

"All right... Hmm... Could we work with Templar?"

"Why Templars? We don't have anything to do with temples." said Marin.

Jarek came up with one idea "What about 'Righteous Men'?".

Hobenrûd rolled his eyes "The villagers won't even know what that means. 'Freedom Army' and
that's final.".

The others thought for a moment, then nodded. "It's decided then."

"Now, we need to decide on a chain of command--"

"What!?" exclaimed Miss Andalora. "I'm the general around here!"

"Hmm, well that means you must be good at fighting, right? So let's duel, and see who's more fit
to lead--" Hobenrud replied, remembering what Byon had told him about the new "woman
warrior".

"You don't have any right to challenge my position in the first place!" Miss Andalora was red on
the cheeks.

"Let's see... Yeah I do!" retorted Hobenrud. "I'm the leader of the Cherry Wood Knights, and I
had single-handedly defeated an entire army once, I'd think."
"It still wouldn't be fair to have a duel, just based on genders alone!"

"Tell that to Priscilla," retorted Hobenrud, recalling how he had lost a match to Princess Marin.
Luckily Anita didn't know that.

Miss Andalora was frustrated--she obviously didn't know how to fight, as everyone realized all
too quickly. Meanwhile, the other Cherry Wood Knights were looking on with partial disgust at
what seemed so clearly to be an unfair attempt to usurp control.

In due time the match began, with both sides using the same wooden swords as those that Marin
had used back in the Cherry Woods. This time Hobenrûd wasted no time taunting his foe, but
brought his tremendous focus and agility to bear. Within ten seconds of first crossing swords
with his opponent, he had managed to trip the young lady "general" and knock her prone onto the
ground, bringing his sword right upon her exposed neck. She conceded defeat silently, then got
back up, heading back to the sidelines in partial humiliation.

Hobenrud was cheering himself, though the Cherry Wood Knights did not know what to think of
the engagement, when Miss Andalora returned, bearing her large, gilded fan and muttering an
incantation.

Anita's fan

With a single sweep, as if attempting to blast him with the very air with the fan, the half-defeated
young general summoned a transparent twister, one meter in diameter, which landed squarely on
Hobenrud and sucked him upward, spiraling, into the air, higher and higher. The others gasped in
surprise as the whirling winds dragged the swashbuckler through the sky into the distant horizon,
while he himself cried out in horror.
"You're not very smart, Hoben," Miss Andalora taunted. And turning toward to the others, she
stated: "He'll will probably take a few hours to catch up with us, so I'm the general around here."

A few moments later, just as the army was about to get moving again, Hobenrûd was running
back, having landed not so far away, sword at the ready.

Miss Andalora spun around in surprise and dismay. "Back already??"

Grinning, Hobenrud pointed at his golden bracelet. "You're not the only one here with magic
stuff. I figured you were a wizard, when I was told you can't fight. I just wanted to know what
you could do, exactly." he replied.

Miss Andalora muttered another incantation, made a sweep with her fan, and let fly a much more
vicious tornado the size of a house, as everyone ran to get out of its path.

Hobenrud stood in the middle of the storm, weathering it perfectly and only slightly moving.
"Ahhh... More wind, more wind! The air around me is too stale!"

Miss Andalora was getting mad. "You'll soon have more wind than you can stand," she said, and
made several more sweeps. The tornado had turned the dismal opaque brown of the earth it was
sucking up, and now several more tornadoes joined with it, as a storm cloud rapidly formed
overhead. The winds attempting to push him back were bringing with them rocks and earthen
soil.

Hobenrud managed to stood his ground, crawling on the grass, even though Miss Andalora could
not see him. "Wow, this breeze feels great! More please!" he taunted, knowing that his bracelet
was most of the the wind energy that touched him.

Miss Andalora heard him, she was getting weak from using so much energy, and knowing that
she was out of tricks at the moment, stood still.

The next moment, as the tornado waned, Hobenrûd was actually running forward, going right
through the swirling maelstrom as if it were nil. Holding his sword over his head and screaming.

The young sorceress involuntarily gave a high-pitched scream of terror at the sight of him,
dropped her fan, and backed away, eyes wide open in fear at a force she did not recognize, but
ready to take action.

In the meantime, the storm rapidly dissipated as quickly as it had come...Hobenrûd kept running,
the sword over his head, prepared to give a strong blow. He stopped near Anita.

"I suggest that we be co-commanders of the Freedom Army, Anita," Hobenrud proclaimed.

Miss Andalora was too shocked by his resistance to air that she quickly nodded, saying,
"Accepted."
"All right then, titles?" asked Hulleiman, the first to come back out of shelter.

"Hmm, I don't think headmaster works well anymore," Hobenrud decided finally.

"May I suggest Stalwart?"

"Well, I guess that DOES describe me, doesn't it?" He grinned.

"I guess I'll stick to general," added Anita Andalora.

"Anita, do you think you could teach me about magic?" inquired Princess Marin.

"Well, do you something you can use?"

"As a matter of fact, yes, I do," she replied happily, and showed the general the slender golden
rod that she had been bringing.

"That'll do," Anita replied, recognizing the lightning rod. "Indeed, I do know how to work it. But
are you up the challenge? Learning how to use it is going to be a lot of work...and take a lot of
time."

"Yes, yes, yes!" Marin was eager to learn.

"Well then, let's begin lessons along the road to Pulti, shall we?"

As the stormy skies above faded back into the sunny daylight, the firmament found the army
once again on the move, now more surprised than ever.

edit Chapter 12
"If a person is always aggressive towards you, fear not. Animals, many times, attack prey larger
than they are."
---Ranger Riddel

The Freedom army, over three thousand men strong, entered the Ildrin Forest by evening of their
third day of trekking. Progress was slow, as most of the troops had no miers to ride on and thus
those that did would have to wait for them. They had brought enough supplies to last them
twelve days, and each day new couriers came from Fafner, bringing in much-needed supplies to
keep the army well fed. The logistics meant reduced flexibility for the army, Anita well knew,
and the army certainly could not sustain itself off the lands they traversed.

Ildrin Forest was beautiful in the evening, with streaks of pinkish, golden light filtering through
the leaves of the canopy, rays of light that danced on the ground. Princess Marin took it all in,
then, as the troops decided to rest, she decided to go explore--not too far away from the
encampment that she would get lost, but not so stiflingly close to them either. Anita, her new
friend, went with her, into the forest.
After only a short while they stumbled across a fork in the road, and stepped back. For on both
sides of the fork was a group of warriors, seemingly bandits, ready to capture them.

"Hey you! Retreating already from the forces of Boss Smith?" one of their number taunted.

"Erm, no." replied Marin with emphasis, taking out her dagger and preparing for a fight.

"Oh, so you dare challenge the might of Boss Smith?" And with that, the four bandits on the
right side of the path stepped forward, as the two ladies stepped forward as well.

"Wait a minute," Anita interrupted, realizing that without her magic she would probably be
swiftly defeated in any engagement. "This isn't going to be all that fair of a battle. Four on two?
At least give me the first strike."

"Well, we're bandits. We're all about unfairness," one of the bandits declared with a smile.

Anita raised her golden fan, and Marin smiled knowingly. With a chant and a sweep, she brought
down another twister, landing squarely on the nearest two bandits, plucking them off the ground
much as a child may pull out a weed from the ground, and tossed them into the air. A few
moments later there was a crash somewhere in the distance--which Marin believed at first was
the two unfortunate souls meeting their death, crashing into the ground or something.

(Though what really happened was that Anita had mercifully landed them back to the ground
safely--after which, neither of the two dared to challenge her again.)

The remaining six bandits, stunned by such power, gasped in horror, and took a step back.

Anita knew that now was not the time for any slip-ups of her own self-assurance, and so she
determined that she would act as if she were a foe worth reckoning with.

"All right then, now that the playing field is equal, let's have our little match, shall we?" Anita
asked the two remaining bandits on the right side of the path.

Eyes wide open, the two hastily shook their heads, taking rapid steps backward, mouth agape and
not knowing what to say, so shocked out of their minds were they.

"Oh come on, now you're afraid?" Anita took a menacing step forward, all the while beginning to
perspire on her forehead, knowing that she was exceptionally vulnerable to any well-placed
attack that any of the bandits could have mustered. "Come on, I'm eager to have a little fight!"
she said, smiling.

Panicking, the two bandits fled down the path, one of them falling on his face as he tried to
retreat. When he looked back up, he saw Anita (forcing herself into) smiling down at him.
"AHHHH!!" he exclaimed, before rapidly breaking into a run and fleeing after the other one.
Anita then walked over to the left road, where the other four bandits stood, stunned by what they
supposed as the fate of two of their comrades, sweat dripping down their foreheads.

"I thought you'd have run by now," Anita said, matter-of-factly.

"No, we're not as scared as them, a bandit replied.

"Oh really? So you'll wish to fight me?"

The bandit's mouth dropped wide open, and his eyes opened wide in fear, then he took a step
back.

Anita then faced another bandit. "What about you?"

He took two steps back. "I would never want to fight you, miss," he managed to say.

"Oh come on, why, don't you have any courage at all?" Anita taunted, then went on to the third
bandit. "So who is this Smith guy?"

"AH! No wait! We weren't here to get you, we were supposed to be lying in wait for someone
else!" the bandit lied.

"Really, I would like to meet the Smith guy, show me the way there, and tell him I'm coming,
will ya?" Anita continued, bluffing. The bandits walked backward, too scared to challenge her,
and soon broke into a run, not daring to look back. Anita followed in hot pursuit, leaving Marin
on her own at the fork in the road, waiting.

The two bandits that had retreated from the path to the right, upon returning, were about to
hastily retreat in fear when one of them exclaimed, "hey, it's not the sorceress!"

The two bandits jumped out and lunged straight at the princess, who, barely flinching, brought
out her golden rod and rapidly parried the attacks of both bandits. After half a minute, the three
finally took pause. "My, you're a tough nut to crack," the bandit managed to say at last to Marin.

"You won't be able to crack me at all," she retorted, and charged at the two again, ferociously,
beating them back a few steps at a time.

edit Chapter 13
"

"Out in the wilds, help is usually in the most unlikely of places."


---Ranger Riddel
The fighting came to an abrupt halt as nearby a twister, swirling with a multitude of rasping
leaves, juggernauted towards them. The four bandits that Anita had been pursuing were spinning
inside its vortex, shouting in mortified fear.

Anita returned, and as she appeared into view, the twister came to an abrupt halt, and the four
aerial prisoners came tumbling to the ground rather abruptly, shouting out in pain as they hit the
ground. The two bandits next to Marin gave out an exclamation of surprise, but decided not to
retreat.

"What!" exclaimed one of them at last. "You didn't kill us!"

"Yeah, well, no, I won't be killing you, I hope, if you cooperate with us," replied Anita.

At the same time another twister came from the opposite direction, bringing the first two bandits
back, aghast, before landing them on the ground.

"But why??" The bandits were thoroughly confused.

Marin sighed, taking over the conversation. "How do you expect us to be able to get support for
our revolution if we kill off everyone we meet?"

"Uh,... because we're bandits, maybe?"

"Say that again if you want to die, then," Anita retorted. Obviously none of the bandits was going
to risk that.

"Okay now, so see, you've all renounced your association with any bandits, and with that Smith
guy," Anita continued. "So now you're with us--the Freedom army."

The bandits looked at the two ladies, wondering what was going on.

"Oh, it's actually really simple. You come join us, and we'll provide you with food, armor, and
miers fit for knights."

It was an offer the bandits couldn't refuse. "Well, that definitely sounds better than the stale
biscuits that Boss Smith offered to us... erm, former 'boss'."

"But first, you will have to prove to us that you're on our side," continued Marin.

"Oh, that'll be easy," a bandit replied, rapidly taking out his bow, arming it with an arrow, and
pointing it at Anita, who was too surprised to do anything to protect herself and could only gasp
in stunned terror. "You could be very good target practice," the bandit noted. "But I shan't kill
you now."

Marin squinted at the bandit. "You weren't really afraid of us earlier, were you?"
"Nope, not at all," the bandit replied, returning the bow and arrow to their rightful places on his
belt. "But we wanted to find out what you were like. And the best way to do that was to act as if
we were afraid and weak, and watch your response. You two behaved admirably."

Marin doubted that the bandit was bluffing, but then, that must have been some good
extemporaneous bluffing, so she decided that they had proved themselves after all. "Okay then,"
she broke the silence. "What's your name?"

"Teridas," the bandit answered. "Freedom army, eh? We have quite a bone to pick with this new
king of Ruivoca..." Marin and Anita both nodded.

And that was how the Freedom army recruited the eight Ildrin bandits.

"How far away still is Pulti?" Marin asked Anita as they walked back.

"Oh, still another week's distance," was her reply. "I don't know if you've seen the map, Priscilla,
but it's not all that close to us. It's near the border between Ruivoca and Yuak. Say, maybe we
can get some reinforcements from there as well..." Anita fell into silence as they finished their
trip back.

Then she eagerly walked over to another knight, who by the frills and the trim decorations on his
armor was a lieutenant of sorts. Marin listened. "Pulti is right next to the Yuakkan kingdom,
Ishmael. If we can get some of their knights for the upcoming siege break, then our chances of
victory would be greater."

"Yes, madam, I'll see right to it that a battalion is sent to its capital," Ishmael saluted back.

"Thank you. You may remind yourself that every extra soldier you bring back from this side
expedition will save another man in the battle to come." Anita gave him a rewarding smile.
Princess Marin, watching their conversation, wondered at Anita's ability to strike sympathy and
understanding into the hearts of those she talked to. For it seemed that everywhere Anita went,
there seemed to follow, an aura of ecstasy.

Early the next morning, the army packed up camp and departed once again, heading further
south to the besieged city of Pulti. "Drindell, we're coming for you," remarked Hobenrûd.

As they continued south across the continent, the landscape turned progressively more hilly.
Then they came at last back to the Cherry Woods--the Cherry Wood Knights' base of operations,
which they had left nearly two weeks ago...

Chapter 14
"Play today, my dear! Rest tonight, my dear! For tomorrow, my dear, you'll die!"
---The Bard's Wife, introduction
Gilbert was one of the first Cherry Wood Knights who came, limping, in his case, to the edge of
the encampment to visit them, face all aglow with joy at knowing that his comrades had
successfully managed to get back alive from their trip to Fafner.

"How's everything going, Gilbert?" inquired Hobenrûd, looking at the camp.

"Not bad, Hoben! In fact, I think we're already ready to begin marching. A local village offered
us quite a bit of gold in exchange for 'enlisting' our support in eradicating all those made-up
'witches' that prowled this place. So. Ready to tackle Pulti?"

Hobenrûd smirked and said "Hollen gave us more troops than you can possibly imagine. I think
it's my charm, myself."; Anita also got down from her mier and came forward, she glanced at
Gilbert's bad leg, glanced at the camp, and seemed disappointed: "So this is your base of
operations?"

Hobenrûd rolled his eyes. "Or maybe he just wanted to bother me. Gilbert, meet Anita. We got
another girl in the team...and don't mean it in the good way. And Anita, yes, this is our base. We
didn't have money for a fancy palace. So you'll have to get used to it.". Gilbert turned to face her.
"Well...we don't have much time to waste, but I believe your men are tired. We were planning to
have a commemoration when you came...but I think we don't have beer for so many people."

Anita grinned and said: "Oh, don't worry. I don't drink."

That evening, Marin was walking around the camp. Not thinking about becoming queen, or
about her father, or about gaining Hobenrûd's trust for the first time in days. Because, at that
time, her mind was busy with more immediate worries like: "It's awfully crowded in here. And
it's so noisy! It's a wonder my father's army don't hear us and burn our camp."

Torches were lit to provide more illumination, and open kegs of beer were scattered throughout
the field, so that anyone could just dip a cup in them and drink. The moon and various stars
could be seen, brightly helping with the illumination themselves.

Bards were singing happily and playing merry songs in their instruments, some of the more
academic sang classical works like "Ode to Faghorn" and "The yellow rabbit"; while village
bards sang improvised songs with varying degrees of success. All the songs and voices and lyrics
and yells combined together to form a wild cacophony of joy that could not be understood, and
yet described perfectly how the people were feeling.

While walking, Marin stumbled on Jarek, somewhat drunk, carrying a lute strapped to himself.
He was singing in abandon while playing strange harmonies:

"\And he shlashed the shlob's gut!\...while...yelling for him to shtay put!\ ...and his
noblesh...pardnesh came\...Oh, hey Prish...shilla. Sorry 'bout tha'...I sink...I think I'm kinda
drunk.", he said, laughing.
Marin sipped from her cup, and told him: "Yeah. You look kinda drunk.".

He laughed again at this, louder. "Oh but it'sh not a party 'till shomen...shomeone getsh
drunk! ...Hmm...Nishe idea for a shong! \Tish not a party, I thunk.\ 'Till shomeone got drunk!\".

Marin decided to walk on, leaving Jarek behind, singing the song that later would be known as
the "Ode to the yellow miers". She went to the central wooden pavilion, that seemed to be less
crowded than the rest of the camp. Upon entering the pavilion, she noticed Anita, in a corner,
speaking with some tall man.

"Hey Marin! How are you doing? This is Yuri, one of my lieutenants. He was telling me that this
party idea was really good. And I concur, this way our tired soldiers can rest for the march to
Pulti, and since it'll take more than a day until we actually reach there, the side-effects of the beer
won't pose trouble." she said.

Marin was looking at the other corner, where Hobenrûd talked with two women about his feats
in the travel. A second or two later she looked back to Anita. "Uh? Oh, yes...Gilbert knows how
to handle this kind of thing. He was a strategist in the king's army, or something.". She took
another sip from her cup.

Hobenrûd noticed them and walked closer. "Priss! Hey! I thought you were going to just walk
around the camp. Really, the best of party is here anyway. And Anita, Gilbert said it would be a
good idea if we divided ourselves from the main army and went to Jyptia without Drindell, since
you're a wizard and all tha..."

"I'm not a wizard." she interrupted. Hobenrûd rolled his eyes, and told her "Yeah, a wizardress or
whatever.".

This time it was Anita that rolled her eyes. "No, I mean that I am not a witch. I am a sorceress."

"Oh, then I'll pretend I understand everything now." said Hobenrûd impatiently, looking at the
two girls he left behind.

"A wizard is a mage that knows how to use everyday materials and rituals to make magic. A
sorcerer is a mage that knows how to craft and use magical artifacts, there is an enormous
difference. The Jyptians don't accept sorcerers there, they only allow wizards. Something about
the ancient laws of the earth."

"Oh that's just great. I'll get around to tell that to Gilbert somehow. And Priss, lookin' good
tonight, huh? Or maybe it's just the lack of dirt." he said, leaving. Anita looked back to Marin,
and told her "I can't understand that man. And I specially can't understand how you stand him,
Priscilla. He's rude, arrogant, crude and...well, he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer."

Marin glanced at him again and answered: "That's not really him. He just acts like that to look
heroic or something. He really cares about what he's doing, and about those around him... he just
don't want to get really connected to those people.", she took another sip of her cup.
"I know what you mean. Arrogance is but a shield, a wise man once said. But since I first met
him, I have never seen him act any different. So... are you sure that isn't just what you want to
believe in?" Anita asked worriedly.

Marin remembered the night before they departed from Fafner and said, "Yeah...I'm pretty sure."
Anita simply shrugged and told her "Well, then loosen up a little bit. This is a party!" Anita
started to drag Marin away, as the princess gulped what remained of the beer and threw the cup
on the ground.

edit Chapter 15
"Might never won a battle more effectively than Mischief ever did."
---Theory of War, chapter fourteenth.

The next two days were spent making final preparations for battle, and every few hours new
supplies would come in. Princess Marin took part in a few practice engagements, just to be sure
that she was up to par, and Gilbert pronounced her swordswomanship "not bad", even though
after day one few people risked losing their honor in getting defeated by her wooden sword.
Then, the evening before it was time to march, Gilbert procured a brand new long sword, with
her name inscribed into it, for her to use.

Battle practice was held alongside one-on-one matches, and in these sessions Anita would
frequently intervene with her whirlwinds. By the second day most of the soldiers had become
accustomed to it, her regiments from Fafner especially. The Cherry Wood Knights soon came to
see her as a major asset, rather than a dishonor to them all.

In-between battle training, Anita also managed to study the rod that Marin had shown her and
discovered no further magic beside the electrical discharges. She decided to keep the rod for
herself, nonetheless, since she would probably have more use for it than Marin.

Yuri helped provide various maps of Pulti and its surroundings, and fed in reports from the
various scouts of the situations of the siege. Meanwhile, Ishmael worked alongside Gilbert in
making strategic contingencies in preparation for the relieving of the siege. Everything worked
smoothly--and then on the morning of the fourth day, the entire camp seemed to disappear to the
outside observer. Everyone in the rebel group had gone with the Freedom Army, except for the
civilians, and they progressed rapidly on the five-day trail to the besieged fortress.

A little after they left, Marin asked Gilbert why they were undoing the camp. "We won't go back.
After we rescue Drindell, our headquarters will be in Pulti. It's less secluded, but more easily
defended, and they have more supplies there. Luckily, ours isn't the only revolt the king has to
worry about, so he'll probably not send his entire army on to us."

"And that would be bad." Marin pointed out. "Very bad. Even with more than four thousand men
we have no chance against the better trained and equipped Sardinians...or the holy order. And
that discounting the gigantic Ruivocan army. If he sent all his forces at the same time...our
chances would be grim."
Hobenrûd closed in and entered the conversation "But if we manage to get reinforcements from
Jyptia, then we'll have a chance. Jyptia doesn't have many soldiers, but they have lots of dragons
and magic. Not even the Sardinians' can defend against that."

"Of course, all that assumes we manage to break the siege. Which may not happen...and...I don't
actually have a back-up plan, so it's all or nothing this time." said Gilbert, depressingly. "But let's
not tell the men this, shall we? Rule number one in strategy books is: 'A man that believes in
victory can easily defeat a better equipped and trained foe'."

Hobenrûd, Marin and Anita nodded. And, besides some villages, (where the Freedom Army
managed to obtain more supplies and recruits) the march went on unhindered. In the third day of
march, the Freedom Army stopped in hamlet of Gunstrer, a mere day travel from Pulti, where the
last preparations would be made.

The two leaders of the freedom army and their lieutenants reunited in the local lord's manor to
discuss last minute strategy. Inside a spacious room, richly furnished. In the center of it, there
was a hand-carved wooden long table, on which a map of the Pulti hills was spread, and the
speculated positions of Sardinian troops marked. Ishmael was intently looking at the map.

Gilbert stood up from his chair and told him: "I told you already. I've already looked at that map
a gazillion times. The only route is a frontal assault. Any alternative route can be easily seen
from their positions, so it won't be exactly a surprise."

Hobenrûd ignored him and kept looking that the map. Gilbert sat back again. After some time,
Hobenrûd looked back at him. "Well. If they can see us coming from that position, then we lure
them down with half of our forces. This way, the rest will be able to attack their flanks from the
higher ground."

Gilbert quickly got up, groaned in pain, and limped around the table until he was beside
Hobenrûd. The two whispered between themselves, and seemed to reach a consent. Gilbert
grinned.

Ishmael then entered the room, and noticing them chat, asked, "so what's happened?"

"Our plan for the attack. We settled on drawing them out by setting a decoy here--" and Gilbert
pointed at a point on the map. "...And then we gain ground here--" and he pointed again at
another spot on the map, "before we finally attack this way," and he concluded, swiftly moving
his finger across the map in a single sweep.

Ishmael was not too satisfied. "Seems like half of our men will die in this battle," he noted, not
too eager. "We have to cut the casualties down to no more than a fifth of our troops! Otherwise,
morale will be down, and our chances for success will be greatly diminished."

"Well, if everything goes according to the plan, we won't lose even half of our troops. And the
enemy has a better position, is better equipped, and has more men. I'm afraid that's nearly
impossible." Hobenrûd quickly declared.
"Nearly," emphasized Ishmael. "But there's ways to take down the siege losing only a few
people. I had thought it all out already." The other commanders made way for him to get closer
to the map, but he simply swiped the paper off the table. "Don't even bother with the map."

Then Ishmael proceeded to tell the others about his plans, at the end of which they all declared
that it was brilliant, and went off to sleep for the final night before the battle. And so, the scene
was set for battling the very next day.

edit Chapter 16
"There is nothing more glorious than the piercing scream of your mangled enemies as you thrust
your blade through their hearts."
---King Ük, the red

Early the next morning Ishmael donned a very decorative blue coat of arms of Ruivoca, and,
taking a dangling bag full of somethings, headed over across the no-man's land to the encamped
siege on his mier. As he went up the steep slopes, the guards looked at him, took notice, and
intercepted him. "What's the password?"

Ishmael took to bluffing, and taking out a stamp of office, displayed it to the guards. "I'm not at
all familiar with this place, mind you, but I've come to deliver medals of honor to the commander
for having successfully cast siege on Pulti, with the wizard as the prize." He then attempted to
get past them.

"Wait!" one of the guards declared. "You still haven't told us the password!"

"Durn it, don't you two have any sense?" He was shouting at them. "I'm your superior, hello!"
And he brandished his stamp of office in front of their astonished eyes. "So get out of my way,
maybe? ... Or even better, I'm not even so sure that you're not sneaks!" Ishmael appeared
infuriated. "You have this one chance to give me the right password, which I'll check with the
commanders, or I'll have you both executed for treason!"

The stunned guards could not take effective action against him, and merely stated, "the password
is 'doughnut'."

"What kind of crap is that?" Ishmael shouted, nearly at the top of his voice.

"But that really is the password, we don't get to choose." the guard protested.

"All right then, I'll be checking with the commanders, so you two had better be god-damned
sure," he announced, before trotting his mier past the two guards. "And stick to your posts!" he
hollered behind them, making them stiffen up.

Ishmael rapidly went from one platoon to another around the great besieging army, giving out
the password 'doughnut' whenever asked, and handing two medals of honor to every platoon. He
could tell that his plan was working. At every turn the soldiers in each platoon were jealous of
both the platoon leader (who had one of them) and the leader's favorite (who got the other). He
effectively stirred up anti-leadership hatred and a willingness to turn against one's own superiors.
By noon his work was complete, and he was heading back to the Freedom army.

Battle was joined at mid-day, with Hobenrûd, Anita, and Marin at the front lines with the
infantry, taking all the brunt of the attack. While archers rained down arrows on the enemy that
charged down the hills. And the cavalry circling around to the rear to launch surprise initiatives.
At the center of the battlefield, the Freedom Army held its position perfectly, while driving the
opposition into confusion. Anita's mere presence projected an aura of encouragement that
boosted the morale of her subordinates, driving them to fight to the utmost; Hobenrûd inspired
hope and fearlessness in the Cherry Wood Knights.

There was no way the defending Ruivocan army could have won. Rumors had spread of witches
from the Cherry Woods, with their glowing orbs and ethereal whisting instruments, coming to do
battle with them (mere humans, after all); some of the Freedom army soldiers carried such
objects, much to the sudden dismay of the Ruivocan troops. Anita preceded the battle with the
summoning of a trio of twisters, which whirled around the battlefield, throwing chaos into the
enemy forces and tossing them far away to their deaths, and continuing on with Marin's lightning
rod in close combat. Marin, with her feints, and her very gender threatening to disprove
masculine superiority of the troops, dismayed their spirits; while Hobenrûd, the legendary
invincible warrior, beat back every enemy offensive and cut down their finest troops and
devastating their already weakened morale.

The Ruivocan army, which was nearly twice as large, quickly crumbled into fragmented pockets
of weakened resistance, many of their troops too cowed to engage the Freedom army and their
sorcerers and alleged witches. The commanders could not even direct their men to where the
battle required them, as the footmen constantly mutinied in an attempt to obtain the medals of
honor for themselves. Before long, the Ruivocan leadership had collapsed, all slain by privates in
the army, who then set about fighting each other for the medals. And then, the cavalry, that had
gone around the enemy troops, charged down the hill, trampling all in their paths, while the
spearmen were in the front lines.

Within half an hour, the Freedom army had plowed through the center and both flanks of the
Ruivocan army, breaking their siege into pieces and sending their men fleeing with stories of the
horrors of the battle and the superior powers of the Freedom army. Even when the Sardinians
finally arrived at the battle front, descending from their posts near the top of the hills, they
became uneasy as they heard the rapid recounts of whole regiments being wiped out rapidly, they
cursed the ineptness of the foreigners and retreated from the fight, leaving the members of the
Inquisitor Guard to fight on their own.

Then came Hobenrûd's master stroke: he challenged the leader of the Inquisitor Guard to one-on-
one, hands-only combat. For whoever would win this most primitive of engagements must also
be the righteous one. Hobenrûd quickly won, cutting the rivals' head. And the results of the duel
were clearly visible to all the Sardinians, who began to question their own leadership. Hobenrûd
then challenged the second leader of the Inquisitor Guard, who, cowed by the swiftness of
Hobenrûd's victory, conceded defeat and ordered his forces into retreat.
It was with a light heart that the Freedom Army entered and liberated the city of Pulti, whose
maidens came out in their virgin-white dresses carrying a victory feast for both the liberators and
the stalwart defenders. The Freedom Army had lost roughly four hundred of their brave warriors;
this was out of nearly six thousand soldiers who entered the fray. Later, it would be counted, that
the besieging armies had taken over seven thousand casualties (over three thousand dead, and the
other four thousand too weak to flee the battlefield and rapidly taken captive or slaughtered) of a
total force of nine thousand.

Pulti, however, was devastated. Their initial garrison - Drindell told them soon enough - had
been roughly three thousand; now, they had been reduced to a mere eight hundred men after
weeks of siege. Many civilians had died as well. All the way into the night, funerals continued,
while the unscrupulous members of the victorious armies went about the battlefield, scouring for
any items of value, chopping off the hands of the dead to get at their bracelets, and their necks to
get at their necklaces, without even so much as a worry as to the corpses' humanity. Yet amidst
the festive celebration, the leaders reasoned that it would be improper to intrude on what the
victors had done. It was, after all, just another way of obtaining revenge against the usurper-king.

Anita, now sickened of the battle, went to the city hospitals to look after her wounded. Marin
was pressed into coming along, even though she detested the idea of "wasting" hours treating
others' wounds. "But one needs to care for one's own troops, Priscilla! Especially since they have
helped win this fight, not to mention those who died, or those who have lost friends, in the battle.
As leaders, we must tend to their needs. That's the surest step toward building up a strong, loyal,
and committed fighting force. That's one of the few things that distinguish us from those brutes
that we've been fighting."

So Marin consented, and followed the general as she went to each hospital in turn, telling tales to
the eager soldiers (who still found reason to delight and to bask in their glory), epic stories of the
battles of the past in which righteousness had prevailed against indomitable odds and had
succeeded through the very intervention of the Gods (Or so she said). The wounded soldiers
were fascinated my her story-telling abilities, as well of all the tales that she knew; obviously,
some of them she had never before told the soldiers.

Anita also helped prepare medications for her soldiers whenever possible, blessing them with
whatever divine authority they supposed that she commanded within her. Marin admired how her
alms seemed to much more welcomed and cherished than those given by the local doctors--the
loyalty of these soldiers for their general was hard to place in words. But they all trusted in her
for a fact, and believed that, with the herbal remedies that Anita had made, they would not die
from their battle wounds. "The men view you as a prophet of life," Marin remarked to her at one
point, truly astonished by their reception. And at the end of each visit to a hospital room, the men
would cheer for her.

Gradually, Marin felt bits of pity for the soldiers, and began to understand the pivotal role of
Anita's care for her soldiers that had allowed them to win the day. She realized, also, that in order
for her to possibly obtain the support she would need in order to become queen, she would also,
like Anita, have to show care for her troops. She began to become willing to help Anita on
certain tasks, and stopped herself from appearing to do so only grudgingly.
edit Chapter 17
"When it's all over, the only thing left to do is to enjoy life. For that was why it all had been
done--to make life enjoyable."
---Oath of the Retired

One day had passed since the successful liberation of Pulti. The wounded were being nursed to
health, and the dead, both friend and foe, were being buried in mass-graves out of the city. Marin
was in Drindell's house, looking over the city through a window. There was a dead man on the
street. Drindell was sitting behind her, in a red sofa, smoking Hewl.

He finally finished thinking, took the pipe from his mouth, and stated: "It seems to be a good
idea.". Hobenrûd darted up from the sofa, telling him that "But it's unnecessary. You saw how
easy it was to defeat our enemies here. I thought it would be harder. We don't need help from
Jyptia. Specially not now that we have your magic tricks."

"Fool! The army you defeated here was one of the most inexperienced of the king's army, the
Inquisitors still have hundreds of well-trained soldiers and you were lucky the Sardinians
retreated before the fight. And, besides, even the most powerful magic has its limits.", said
Drindell, before repositioning the pipe in his mouth.

Hobenrûd sat back down, with less enthusiasm. "So you can't help us?", he asked. Drindell stood,
slowly, took the pipe again and laid it on the center table. "Yes, I can help. I can most surely help
you reach Jyptia, since I've already been there, researching magical ingredients. I can most surely
be of use in a fight, or to burn a building, since this is child's play, for anyone with any basic
knowledge of the arcane. But you cannot expect me to aid you in a suicide mission against all
odds.", he paused for a second, to see if his speech had any effect.

"So patience, lads. The king will still be here when we return.", he added, finished for the time.
Anita sighed. "Then our best bet is going to East Gormenor. They'll surely have a ship to
transp..."

Gilbert interrupted her, stating that "That's not a good idea. Transport ships are full of royal
troops these days, and they may be looking for us already. Some of them escaped our attack,
remember?"

"Can't you conjure a ship or something?" asked Hobenrûd, downhearted. Drindell rolled his eyes,
and angrily said: "Of course I can conjure a ship you idiot. But then, I would need six leaves
from Gartoja trees, of the northen forests, sap from rare red-leafed trees called Biokas and mud
from the northwestern wastes. And I don't see any of these things here, now do I? How am I
supposed to aid you?"

Marin stopped looking at the littered streets of Pulti and faced the others again. "Why don't we
ask for a ride?", she said.
Yuri chuckled, telling her: "Didn't you hear? Soldiers in every transpo...", "Yes, I heard that, but
they don't have soldiers in merchant ships, or even fishing ships, do they? If we find someone
that the king pissed off somehow, and that shouldn't be so hard, he may be willing to take us
across the sea."

Hobenrûd smiled, and stated: "You surprise me more each passing day, Priscilla...She's right. It'll
be easy to find someone discontent with the king. And it'll be even easier to get into their ship
and reach Sumdo. Then we enter Jyptia, just as easily. So...who's staying behind to take care of
the troops?"

Gilbert was the first to answer. "Now that we have a decent mier...I suppose I won't be a burden
if I accompany you. I know a little bit of Sumdo, since I was there for three years in the
intercontinental wars. And I think I'm not entirely useless in a fight."

Ishamel stood up, before stating that "I'd prefer to stay. With some good, old Lukavian training,
these troops might be useful for something one day.". And Yuri nodded, before adding: "And
he'll need my help. So I'm staying too."

Hobenrûd stood again and clapped his hands. "So, I suppose it's me, Priss, Anita, Gilbert and
Drindell?". The four of them nodded. "East Gormenor is less than a day on mier from here, we
should reach there by night."

They packed supplies, their weapons and magical ingredients for Drindell, and departed through
the gates, cheered by the population of Pulti. After five hours of travel, spent nearly in complete
silence, Marin was bored. "How do you stand travelling so much?", she asked Hobenrûd.

"Well, sometimes I converse.", he answered. She told him she was tired of conversing. He
groaned and told her: "Then look at the landscape.". "Tree, tree, grass, rock, clouds, sky. Done.",
she said, bored.

He couldn't help but smile. "Well, since you are so demanding in your ways of passing
time...when I was in the army we had marching songs."

"Oh no! Anything but the marching song. Tell him not to Priscilla.", Gilbert suggested. "It's not
that bad. It helped me many times when I was low on morale. Here, I'll just sing the first part..."

Gilbert groaned. "Well, don't say I didn't warn you."

Hobenrûd cleared his throat and let one hand go from steering the mier. He started making
flowing movements in the air, in the rhythm of the song.

"We are soldiers from Ruivoca!


The greatest kingdom there is!
The greatest that ever was!
The greatest that will be!
Our enemies run like chickens
Our friends hide behind us
And all the girls in our villages...
Well, they really like our visages!

Because...

We are soldiers from Ruivoca!


The greatest kingdom there is!
The greatest that ever was!
The greatest that will be!

And it goes on like this.", he said, triumphantly.

"Right... And do you want me to blow you away with my fan again?" asked Anita, blushing at
this indirect attack on Lukavia.

"Yeah, and I thought we were rebels against Ruivoca," added in Marin.

"Hey guys, but see this is what we sang a long time ago, now we don't sing that anymore."
Hobenrud replied, a bit upset. "Why don't you try making a song then?"

"Fine, I will," replied Anita:

"Have you ever thought,


Whether war is fun or not?
If your answer's not true,
Let me sing a thing or two:

War undoes society,


It's all weary and dreary,
And besides all the parry,
It's neither fair nor airy.

War is not what boys play,


It rends souls apart day by day,
War is not what boys say,
Pleasant as they think it may.

Decay is everywhere,
And not a puff of fresh air;
Staying outside none will dare,
And the soil untilled is bare.

War undoes society,


It's all weary and dreary,
And besides all the parry,
It's neither fair nor airy.

Your families bought and sold,


And to horrors yet untold,
Except for morbid ghouls,
Warfare is grief and woe.

Your land is in blood smears,


Your men in a vale of tears.
Recall your knights and fyrd,
Make the peace we hold so dear.

To this end you must do,


And I'll give myself to you;
If to this world you're true,
It repays support to you."

Chapter 18
"The best disciples are those that don't need teachers."
---Drindell, the arcane

"Pfft. Where I come from, marching songs are supposed to be spirit-lifting.", said Hobenrûd
rather rudely.

"This was not a marching song. It was a song da...my father used to sing to me during the wars
against Ruivoca. He sung it the day I became a general. To remind me to take things
seriously...differently from some people, I don't think war is all fun and games.", she replied,
upset.

Hobenrûd seemed really distressed over this. "I don't think this is all fun and games. But what,
do you think of that song when you're in the battlefield? Do you think those crazy screaming
people running towards you are equals? Nope. You just say 'They're the enemy!' and you kill
them, as fast as you can. So you can go all 'hollier than thou' as much as you want. But I bet you
barely thought about the people you killed a day ago."

Anita remained silent. She was not about to tell these war-mongers how she had painstakingly
helped bring the fallen Ruivocan soldiers into the hospitals as well, treating them as humans at
long last...

Hobenrûd grinned again, triumphantly. "And besides, as far as rhythm and rhymes go, I still
think my song was better.", he said.

Drindell entered the conversation for the first time. "Oh yes. True poetry, I must say."
Hobenrûd scowled at him, asking: "What, do you know any better?". He assumed a mock-
thoughtful expression the said "Hmm...no. I was too busy learning how to shape reality itself to
learn any good song."

"You keep talking about your magical powers but I've never seen you do anything useful.",
Hobenrûd taunted him. Drindell was visibly displeased. "Maybe because I was too busy helping
our eight hundred soldiers resist an army of over eight thousand enemies, lad! I am not some
street "magician" that performs tricks on command. My powers are not to be wasted on trifle
matters."

"Whatever then. Just know that the Fanniganians ran away at the mere sound of that song. That's
how much it helped us in battle." said Hobenrûd, trying to defend his song. "Oh, I believe that. I
can already picture the enemy fleeing with their hands on their ears and screaming. But don't
worry, lad. It's not your fault if Ruivocan bards aren't worth the food they eat.", said Drindell,
jokingly.

"Well, I bet Priscilla liked the song. Didn't you, Priss?", the other man said, looking at Marin.
"What? Oh...well I...Drindell, you're not as I imagined at all. I thought you were older.", she
changed the subject, masterfully. Prompting Hobenrûd to scowl again.

"Well...", Drindell said, "I know I look barely thirty, but I'm actually thirty-five, you know?".

Marin snickered, before adding "Actually, I look at least forty. But I thought you'd be...I don't
know...older. A wise sage and all that.". Drindell seemed to have understood. "Ah. Yes. Most of
the wizards take a lot more time than me to reach the same level of knowledge and skill. Some
never do."

"So...can you explain anything about magic to us? Nothing complicated, it's just that we'1ve been
through enough to understand that knowledge of magic can help us to achieve our goals.", she
said. Drindell thought for a moment.

"Well, I'll try to explain it the easiest way I can think of, since you probably didn't have basic
education yet. Let's see...many ages ago, a man called Vurghees discovered, probably by
accident, that if he said 'Fargotafis' while holding a cicada wing. It glowed brightly. Some say the
Gods bestowed that knowledge unto him, but I don't know about that. All I know is that he didn't
stop there." he said, slowly, seeing if he could see any sign of understanding on their faces.

Anita continued from there: "He kept doing experiments. Saying meaningless words while
holding meaningless things. He discovered some other spells, like simple elemental magic and
healing. He then did his best to discover a pattern in the various he managed to do."

Drindell seemed slightly upset for the interruption, but satisfied nonetheless. "Ah. So you do
know something. How come you didn't teach them?", he asked. Anita shrugged and told him that
"Well, I didn't actually have time for that since I needed to help them rescue you. Besides, my
knowledge of how magic works is more...limited."
Drindell was somewhat confused at this. "Hm? What you...Oh, a sorcerer! I keep seeing more
and more of them these days. I suppose it is easier to learn, but I prefer the flexibility of classical
magic myself...caham, anyway, Vurghees wrote this book 'Encyclopaedia Magicka". Many other
people, before him, had discovered some spells by accident, but he was the first to write them
down for the future generations."

"Now, after Vurghees, other people also researched magic. And expanded our knowledge of
what is called magic nowadays. They discovered various kinds of magic. Like conjuration, in
which some kind of matter disappears and other appears. Like when I said I could conjure a ship
earlier. Usually, the ingredients have little to do with the result."

"Besides conjuration, there is also summoning, in which matter changes state or is moved
somehow. Sorcery, that deals with the craft of special magical artifacts, that channel magic more
easily. And Evocation, in which matter appears without a previous loss of matter. For
example...", he took a long and thick bone from his bag. "I can use this mier femur to cast a
simple fireball as many times as I need. Although some wizards believe that, possibly, some very
small part of the bone actually disappears."

Marin looked at the sky, trying to digest what she learned. "So...all this...'matter'...where does it
come from? I mean, it doesn't come from nowhere.", she pointed out. Drindell smiled,
impressed. "Well, there are many theories about that. Some wizards believe that the Gods see
what they are trying to do and create things to aid them." he rolled his eyes to demonstrate that
he thought it was nonsense. "Others think that, somehow, it is transported from other worlds.
That, when we do these spells we, somehow, weaken the division between our world and others.
Like a world made of fire would spit out fireballs when I cast a fireball spell, since some kind of
'portal' would open."

Marin looked at him for a second and stated "So...no one knows?". Drindell chuckled, before
answering "Pretty much. That's why they call it 'arcane', lass. But one thing is certain, either way.
It works."

A little time later, Hobenrûd, that was some meters ahead of the rest of them, shouted: "Hey!
Guys, we're here!"

Anita beamed. "Great! I've never been in a ship before.", she said. Gilbert looked at her. "If last
time I went to Sumdo is any indication, you'll regret saying those words soon enough."

edit Chapter 19
"People usually make plans for things they'll do next year, next month, next week or next day.
They tend to disregard the fact that they may not survive the next hour."
---Frenciano Rochell, Gran-mayor of Ginalía
East Gormenor is a port town in the southeastern tip of the Continent. And the main link with
Sumdo. So much that the Geres is the patron God of the town, and it's the only town to have a
great percentage of Sumdanian population. The town is also known as the headquarters of the
Ruivocan trade association. After reaching the town, the party went to the docks, to see if they
could find a ship to take them to Sumdo.

They were unlucky. All the merchant ships had left, and no big fishing ship existed in the town.
The only ships in the docks were either military or transport. Downhearted, they decided to sleep
in "Jarnia's Inn", the smaller (And cheapest) inn in the town, hoping that some ship docked there
before long. Each room only had two beds so they had to rent three rooms. Gilbert and Hobenrûd
in one, Anita and Marin in other, and Drindell with a room only for him.

It was a little after midnight, Anita had already fallen asleep, and Marin was still finishing
writing her journal, a habit she repeated almost every night since she found the old blank book
on a barrel in the Cherry Woods' Knights camp. And all the time she heard strange sounds she
couldn't quite make out from Drindell's room, through the wall. He seemed to be making a ritual
of some sort.

Out in the window, drunks were singing a song while walking through the street, a owl was
perched on the tree that was planted in front of the inn, making owly sounds from time to time.
And Anita snored or mumbled nonsense from time to time. All forming a careful symphony that
couldn't sound the same if it was on purpose. Then a dissonance. The wooden panels of the floor,
through her door, creaked, and someone cursed "Mier's dung!" and mumbled something she
couldn't quite understand.

Marin kept silent and paid attention to any other sounds. Whoever it was that said that, certainly
didn't want to be noticed. It was probably just the owner of the place, checking if the clients were
sleeping...still, she felt that something was wrong, figured that it wouldn't hurt to check, and
went to the door. She paused for a second, with her hand on the handle, and took her sword
before opening it.

The corridor was dark, and she couldn't see anyone. "Is anyone there?", she asked the darkness
around her. Something started running towards her in the darkness and she rolled forward. The
door broke off its hinges as a shadow collided with it, forcefully, narrowly missing Marin. The
shadow groaned in pain and quickly pushed itself off the floor and onto its feet.

"Who are you?", she asked the shadow, angrily. Instead of answering, the shadow plunged at her,
and she tried get out of the way again, but was less lucky than the first time. Something cut her
right shoulder. She looked behind her, and prepared to counterattack. The shadow had plunged
into her room, and under the light of the moon, was revealed to be a man with black clothing,
holding a dagger on each hand.

Marin tightened the grip on her sword, and prepared to counterattack him when he showed an
opening. "It looks like you brought a dagger to a sword fight...But I bet a lot of girls told you that
before, right?", she taunted, hoping that he would jump on her again. He only lunged at her this
time though, barely taking his feet from the ground.
But all the ruckus caused Anita to wake up, slowly, and she gave a piercing scream when she
saw the man. The scream distracted him for long enough, and within seconds he had half of his
left arm cut off. And then, he started to scream, in pain. "Drop the dagger and I'll get you a
physician.", said Marin, with the sword near his neck. But he quickly managed to roll away from
her and run down the stairs, and when she tried to give chase, she stumbled on Hobenrûd.

"Who was that ma...What happened here!?", he asked, startled by the blood and the hand on the
ground. Marin still tried to chase the man, but gave up, he was nowhere to be seen. "A man came
in here. And thanks to you, he escaped.", she told Hobenrûd. But he barely listened to her, too
busy looking at her shoulder. "You are wounded! Come, I know a physician nearby."

She turned her back to him and started to climb the stairs up. "It's only a scratch, and Drindell
probably can hea...", she stopped talking, realizing that if the man was near her room, it could
mean that he already gotten to Drindell. She ran up the stairs and bashed the door to Drindell's
room, only to find him sitting on the ground, with his eyes open, surrounded by four candles.
The candles formed a perfect square on the ground.

"Drindell...what are you...doing?", she asked, while walking toward him. He remained still and
silent, with a blank stare on his face, looking at nowhere in particular. She continued her slow
approach, calling him from time to time. He didn't answer, so she touched his forehead.

Drindell fell on his back, startled. "Ouch!" he cried, pulling his hand from the burning candle.
"What are you doing here, lass? It's morning already?"

"I was worried about you. A man came in here and tried to kill me...What were you doing?", she
asked him, intently. "Recovering my energies.", he told her. And before she asked, he completed:
"No, not sleeping. Using magic tires the mind, not the body. Only special rituals can restore
magical energies, and that's what I was doing before you interrupted me...an assassin, you said?"

"Y-yeah. But...this means he didn't try to kill you...", Marin started to say, before being
interrupted by Hobenrûd, that stood in the doorway: "Which means he was after you.", he told
her. She shook her head and answered "Nope. He passed my room too. He was after yours.",
while looking at his bracelet.

He looked at it too. "You think he was after this? ...well, that slave trader did say someone is
paying a lot of money for it, but the red wolves certainly don't want to mess with us again."

"Yeah, but the red wolves might not be the only ones that know that.", she told him. "What, so
every criminal organization on the continent heard of a bounty on me and I'm the last to
know? ...But I suppose you're right. If he wanted to kill us because of the siege, they would've
killed Drindell. Get yourself healed, I'll help clean your room and stand guard for the night. We'll
have plenty of time to sleep on the ship."

Drindell performed a simple tissue regeneration spell on Marin. Anita, Gilbert and Hobenrûd
cleaned the room. Hobenrûd kept himself awake through the night, keeping guard, and the rest of
them slept peacefully, for that night.
edit Chapter 20
"And the Gods created Hur out of nothing. And Sarda, Geres, Sia and Sallund created the four
basic elements, and unleashed their powers on the world. And Jarnia, mistress of life, descended
on earth and crafted all that moves and breathes and lives from the purest minerals, and she
instilled the breath of life unto them. And Kiros, the bloody God brought death and chaos, and
thus created a fine balance between all that there is. And thus was how all began."
---World's History, chapter 1

They woke up early in the next day, and left the inn, paying for the rent. The sun was glaring on
the sky and it seemed that a really warm day was about to begin. Still, Hobenrûd interpreted it as
a good omen.

Within minutes they reached the docks, the sea waves lightly washed the stone structure, and the
smell of salt was in the air. But apparently, no new ships have entered the docks yet, as the
dockmaster kindly confirmed. The party was even more downhearted. They couldn't wait
forever, and it seemed it would take weeks until the next merchant ship came back.

Defeated for the day, they decided to go to the market, to buy supplies. A blond man wearing
plate armour and a white cape was on top of a crate, talking to a small crowd. He seemed to be
finishing a speech, and they heard part of it.

"'And Sallund saw a man and thought he had great potential. And Sallund dispelled the darkness
that clouded the man's mind, and thus the man could truly see, and truly understand. And Sallund
sent the men to aid the Gods in the creation of the world. And thus it was.'. And as we are equal
before Sallund, thus we shall all be equal before one another. As a supposed holy man, I must
not stand above you, but at the same level, or even below, for only those below you can push you
higher.", he said, loudly, trying to attract attention.

"We must not allow the high-priest to give more powers to the king. Specially we, the supposed
holy men. For although we have our eyes directed toward the infinity beyond, we still live in this
world. And while we are here, we must strive to make other people's lives as happy as we can,
for only them we shall find true happiness. So go, my friends, give money to the poor, forgive
your enemies and smile to your friends. Every small happiness counts to build a greater one.", he
stopped, looked at the crowd and got down from the crate.

Within seconds the small crowd dispersed and become one with the uniform mass of people in
the market. The man sighed, leaned against the wall and looked up. Hobenrûd started to back
down, gesturing with his head to the others to follow him. After noticing that no one was
following him, he whispered "He's an inquisitor.", hoping that it was enough to explain it.

Instead, Gilbert started walking towards the man, smiling confidently, and only barely limping.
He waited until he passed near the man before looking at the man and start talking. The man
seemed not to be in the mood for whatever Gilbert was proposing to him at first, but after some
prodding, he seemed to be agreeing. Gilbert walked back to the group with the man. "Hey
people, this is Caldoras. He's an inquisitor, and has agreed to give us a ride to Sumdo in his
ship."

The others looked at him with a long stare. Hobenrûd must have been thinking, "What are you,
crazy??? That man'll get us killed!"

"No, no, let me explain." Gilbert replied, simply shrugging off the annoyed looks of the group
before him. "And you'll see why this is a plan that could actually work: Caldoras here is annoyed
with the high priest, since the he has been using his influence with the people to hoard support
for the king, whom Caldoras thinks is a corrupt..."

"Bastard.", Caldoras interrupted, and added "And by what your friend tells me, you are exactly
the people that can help lessen his control over the Holy Order."

"Yep. If we manage to get to the priests of Sumdo without being seen by the king's troops, we
can relay the confidential information we gathered on him, and then we'll have enough evidence
to start an investigation and possibly even make the high priest lose his position. But we'll have
to get to Sumdo first, and we can't use a transport ship, because the guards will be looking for us.
So Caldoras will smuggle us to Sumdo, if we promise to personally guarantee that the
investigations are carried out."

Anita was impressed how well Gilbert was able to lie. Even a trained ear would have a hard time
not believing him. But an inquisitor, at the time, is the last person you'd expect to have a trained
ear. Inquisitors needed to start to train hard, from an early age, in one of the Holy Order's
secluded monasteries. They learned how to wage war, how to do battle and, above all, the
teachings of the holy order of Sallund.

When they finished the training, they were ready to make sermons in temples, as priests; or to
fight the enemies of the Holy Order, as an elite soldier. But, since they spent most of their lives
within a walls of a monastery, they were particularly vulnerable to the harsh reality of the social
world.

Hobenrûd quickly caught the drift. "Well, I suppose we can do that. We wouldn't want the high
priest to continue his...thing.", he said, nodding at to the others, that nodded in answer. Caldoras
beamed and rubbed his palms, then opened his arms wide and told them "Sallund answered my
prayers! Come, my friends! Your mission cannot be hindered anymore."

As they walked quickly to the docks, Drindell chuckled, in a low voice. "Now, what you'll do
when he finds out we are not what he thinks we are, lad?", he asked Gilbert, whom barely
allowed him to finish speaking before cutting in, as if he already was mentally preparing the
answer: "He wants the high priest to stop supporting the king. When we achieve our goal, he'll
achieve his...even if indirectly. Nobody loses."

"Unless he discovers we were lying before we are able to do anything. Inquisitors are known for
many things, but mercy isn't one of them." Anita pointed out. Gilbert looked like he was going to
say something, but silenced himself, as Caldoras neared them. "There!", he said "That's the
'Eastern Light'. It's the fastest ship I know, built with Sardinian technology. It has triangular sails
and all the rest. You'll reach Sumdo in less than a week."

The ship was indeed an amazing sight. It was not big (Specially compared to other ships of the
time) but it was painted white, and kept clean (Specially compared to other ships of the time).
The ship's white paint glistened as it reflected the sun light, and three long masts held the folded
sails high. Men and women, some with armour, some without, walked around the upper deck,
cleaning, supervising, conversing, or just wandering around.

The members of the Freedom Army just stared with awe as they boarded the ship.

edit Chapter 21
"Much of my recent years were spent on a ship. Those were the best, and worse - mostly worse -
years of my life."
---Juliene Miezzi, captain of the "Esploradore"

After six days of relative calm at the sea, the ship was nearing Sumdo. The high cliffs of the
northwestern coast could already be seen, which meant that in less than a day they would reach
the port city of Akumba, where the ship would dock.

Marin was in the ship's library, reading a chivalry story. She just hoped they would let her
borrow the book. She wasn't nearly half done yet, and she really wanted to know how it ended.
She managed to resist the urge to take a peek in the ending until now, but she really wanted to
know what would happen with Sir Galfron d'Amela. If only the writer would stop all this
foreshadowing already and get on with the plot!

She looked at Anita, whom was still a bit amazed that the inquisitors had a library in their ship.
Still, she had only seen the library two days after Marin, since she was too busy being seasick.
Even then her head bobbed up and down a little, following the movement of the ship, and
Drindell wasn't much better. Marin was a little worried with her.

"So...what're you reading about?", she asked Anita, trying to distract her from the movement of
the ship. Anita slowly took her book and showed the cover to her. "Elemental Theory of
Artifacts", it read. Feeling a little silly for reading chivalry books while her friend was studying,
Marin rose her book slightly for the table, only enough for Anita to read the cover.

"'The Riding Legend'? Read that already. Decidedly not one of the best works of Lamel. But at
least the whole 'hero dying just before achieving his dream' ending is somewhat original.", Anita
told her, which divided Marin between the gladness of knowing the ending, and the almost
irresistible urge to strangle Anita. After a bit of internal struggle, Marin decided that giving a
fake smile and reading silently would be the best course of action.

Meanwhile, Hobenrûd was on the upper deck, talking with the captain of the ship. The man was
wearing a complete set of chain mail composed of a hauberk, aventail and chausses, these
covered with greaves (that were painted in the same glistening white paint of the rest of the ship).
He must've occupied a relatively low rank in the inquisitor hierarchy, to be wearing such a cheap
armour.

"So...what are you guys going to Sumdo for?", the captain asked, changing the subject.
Hobenrûd was surprised by this, and hesitated a little before answering: "W-we already
told...Caldoras about that, didn't he tell you? We're going to relay a confidential information to
the priests of Sumdo. About the high pri..."

The captain interrupted him, saying that "I've been watching you. You don't act like spies from
the Order. You don't talk like spies from the order. Caldoras is a fool, I hope that with a few
more years and he'll learn how to spot a liar.", the captain smiled, seeing the Hobenrûd's scared
reaction, and continued: "Don't worry. Not all inquisitors are fanatical loonies...Unfortunately,
not being a fanatical loony is not exactly considered a quality within the order. I don't want you
to get killed."

Hobenrûd was relieved, but still a little suspicious. "So what do you want?", he asked.

The captain smiled. "I want to know why do you want to go to Sumdo. And I want to know if I
can profit with this."

Hobenrûd decided that the only way of getting out was telling the captain all about his
movement, and how reaching Jyptia would allow him to finally overthrow the king. To finally
repay his debt with the people from Ruivoca. The captain simply listened intently.

"So you plan to kill the bastard?", he asked, "That's great. I have a brother that's a merchant, and
the whole non-stopping war and high taxes is really hindering his business. From what you told
me, it looks like you really have a chance...Don't worry, I won't tell anyone about you. And if I
ever am ordered to fight you guys, I promise I won't."

Hobenrûd looked at the sea for two or three seconds, before turning to the captain, and start
telling him that "That's good. Every bit of help coun...", but was interrupted when the man on the
crown's nest screamed something that he couldn't understand. The captain probably did though,
as he seemed startled, and exclaimed: "What? But they aren't supposed to be around...". Only he
was also interrupted, as a loud sound was heard and shattered pieces of wood were scattered
through the air in all directions, on the starboard of the ship.

"All hands below deck! Battle positions!" The captain shouted at the top of his lungs, while
descending to the lower decks, being closely followed by Hobenrûd. "What in Kiros' name is
happening!?", he asked, yelling.

The captain stopped for a second, and told him: "A Sardidnian ship came from behind the hills
and shot some kind of projectile with a rope on us. Now they are drawing us in with it. I sent
everyone down to protect against the arrows, but they'll probably board us...I don't understand
why they are...", he turned around and faced Hobenrûd, "You made very powerful enemies,
friend. Still...attacking an Order ship is a serious offence...Arm yourself, and tell your women to
hide in the supply room."
Hobenrûd couldn't help but smirk at this. "Hah. I tell them that every time. If only my women
listened me. Oh, there goes one."

Anita was passing by a few rushing soldiers, when she found out what the commotion was.
"Shoot," she said, before rushing off to her own cabin, where she kept her treasure safe and
sound, before whisking it out.

Just then Drindell also approached, quarterstaff in hand, its sharp, jagged teeth glistening in the
daylight. "Ahh, Anita! I can almost guess what you're about to do now."

"Oh really? That's great, will you lend me a hand?" Anita replied, before rushing back onto the
deck with her oversized green staff. Drindell, kept walking. "I'm working at it."

She took a moment to look at the array of bowmen, setting their mantlets and saw the Sardinian
ship off in the distance. She climbed up the main mast, higher and higher, as another projectile
impact--probably from a ballista--rocked the ship.

Meanwhile, Drindell muttered an incantation, and flicked his kris into the sky. As if a mighty,
invisible hand took control of it, the kris swooshed into the Sardinian tractor rope and began
cutting away at it. The inquisitor archers and Gilbert (with his yew and hickory wood composite
bow) finished setting mantlets on the ship's deck and started to shoot arrows at the other ship.

After a few moments of anguish, as arrows washed over the deck of both ships, the kris
succeeded in breaking one of the cords, slowing the rate at which the two ships were pulled
together. But it was not over yet, they soon realized, as the Sardinian ship closed in more and
more.

Chapter 22
"No matter how trained, loyal, fed or happy he is. A man with a stick will always be a man with
a stick, and somewhere down the line, he'll find a kind crossbowman to show him that."
---Frenciano Rochell, Gran mayor of Ginallia

While Drindell and Anita did their best to avert direct conflict, the captain was briefing all those
soldiers not trained in the art of bows (Only a small fraction of the inquisitors, since they had
incentives to train in every form of combat) on what was going to happen, soon. Hobenrûd was
between them.

The captain paced around, explaining that this was the classic Sardinian "Fresh From the Hook"
tactic. They would launch ballista projectiles specially designed to destroy little, and still hold
the ship tightly. Then they would reel the ship in with it, board the ship with superior troops and
take control of it. All the while they would shoot arrows at the deck, trying to stop the ship's
crew from obtaining a strong foothold. If the crew didn't leave the lower decks, they simply
locked them in and used the wheel to steer the ship to a port, where many more soldiers would be
waiting.
"I don't understand this!", said an inquisitor with plate armour, "Why are the Sardinian attacking
us? We were allies just a day ago!". Another one stood, insulted the captain, and said he would
not be pushed around by a low-rank. The captain, visibly angry with him, shouted: "You may be
of higher ranking on land, but as long as you are in this ship, and you can't even steer a
lifeboat...I'm the superior here! And you'll do as I tell if you don't want to meet Sallund a lot
sooner than you expected!"

After venting his anger, the captain started explaining his battle plan to the soldiers below deck.
Meanwhile, Anita had reached the mast, despite protests from the ignorant men in armour below,
and making a swipe of her fan, sent a whirlwind, falling from the suddenly clouded sky and
streaking into the water. Within moments the waterspout had turned its characteristic bluish,
watery touch, and it spun in the direction of the Sardinians, some of whom leapt overboard at
this point.

The small waterspout passed over the enemy deck, and most, if not all of the crossbowmen that
didn't jump in the sea were forcefully thrown out of it. Two of the four masts of the enemy
galleon were ripped apart, and the enemy mantlets made some physical damage on the ship. But
the threat was not over. And as if to emphasize it, two other projectiles hurled through the air and
hit the "Eastern Light", and the ship started to be reeled him even faster, despite Drindell's efforts
to cut the ropes.

As the ships reached close enough, a drawbridge was lowered on the "Eastern Light" deck, and a
stream of plate armoured soldiers poured out of the hatches to the lower decks from both ships.
Most Sardinian soldiers were equipped with broadswords and brigandines, standard-issue
equipment of Sardinian army, while some of the richer ones had poleaxes and full plate armour.
While the inquisitors were equipped with most varied white-painted armour, differing from rank
to rank and various weapons, including morning stars, longswords and spears.

The two groups faced each other. One waiting for the other to make the first move. Until
Drindell took a foul-smelling thing that looked like it was taken from inside some animal and
mumbled something, jumping on one foot and rotating. Now, no one until today has ever found
reference to any spell cast like this. But the various sources I consulted on the event, all make
mention of this. So I have no other thing to do, but to assume that this was merely a ploy that he
used to give confidence to the inquisitors. And I daresay it must've worked.

What followed was one of the greatest battles of our history. Even though there not nearly as
many soldiers involved than in Pulti, the battle was no less bloody, nor less remembered.
Spearmen and poleaxemen charged with abandon, closely followed by the ferocious close-
combat divisions. Hobenrûd's undulating blade met many bellies, arms, heads and legs that day.
As did Marin's, compensating with sheer enthusiasm the relatively lower level of skill.

Anita decided to use the lighting rod, since the fan could hurt her own allies in such a small
space. She wished she was with her loyal soldiers this time. Drindell threw enemies out of the
ship, whacking them with his quarterstaff, or he simply quickly darted his kris from his clothes
and slit their throats. But the inquisitors, even with their morale elevated by Drindell's "magics"
and their faith in Sallund, were losing ground to the better equipped Sardinians.
And, somewhere along the line where the two groups collided, their attention was drawn to a
single enemy. A man with red hair that parried their slashes and avoided their thrusts as if they
were nothing. A man that killed three high-ranking inquisitors with only two thrusts of his sabre.
A man that forced the inquisitors to retreat to the larboard side of the ship, and regroup, waiting.

The red-haired man twirled his own moustache, and not properly shouted, but rather, spoke with
a loud voice: "I know the people responsible for the recent attack on a Sardinian camp near Pulti
are aboard this ship! I have permission from the gran-mayor of Sardina to attack and apprehend
ships transporting criminals! But don't worry, I am a reasonable man! Did you hear!? Ruann
Rovias is a reasonable man! If you give the criminals, and the ship, to me...you will all be
spared!"

He paused, as if waiting for an answer. Receiving none, he made a wide gesture with his hand,
and his soldiers advanced a little more, among them, a man with only one hand. Then he
continued talking: "It appears you are much more foolish than I previously thought. I am looking
for two women and two men! One of the women is blond, one of the men is dark-haired! Ring
any bells!?"

The inquisitors began mumbling among themselves, and the members of the Freedom Army
thought it was over, they were done. They thought that this was the farther they would make,
and, at the time, it seemed they were right, as the inquisitors, one by one, turned toward them.
But then the captain of the ship screamed back to the red-haired man: "This ship belongs to the
Holy Order of Sallund! And, as dictated by the divine law of sanctuary, only members of the
Order may persecute criminals here! Leave now, and Sallund may forgive your sacrilege!"

The red-haired man didn't actually laugh, it was more a chuckle, according to accounts, but he
couldn't have angered the inquisitors more, even if he had. And as the inquisitors charged,
paying no heed to safety, followed closely by the party of hitch-hikers, except for Drindell, who
decided he would be of more use giving magical support. He took a strange black, furry smaller
bag from his bag, and poured a strange purple powder from it on the deck. Forming a pentagon-
like symbol.

He then took a small gem bound by a thin thread from his pocket, and made strange movements
with it. All the people that ran to the front lines felt something different then. It was neither a
feeling of euphoria, nor one of "strength", but rather, a mixture of those. And thus, the inquisitors
fought as they never fought before. Their strength and resistance heightened.

The inquisitors nearly trampled the first line of Sardinians, while Rovias retreated to the back.
Shields collided, as the Sardinians tried to stop the onslaught of the magically enhanced
defenders. But the inquisitor spearmen poked their spears between the shields, until another line
fell. The Sardinians, seeing the inquisitors killing line after line, fell on disarray and fled as they
could.

Rovias tried to rally the scattered troops and counter-attack, but Hobenrûd ran toward him, from
the mass of victorious inquisitors, brandishing his sword. Rovias avoided his every strike, until
he was cornered on the starboard of the Sardinian ship. Hobenrûd slashed mightily, aiming for
his foe's chest, but Rovias, without any space to avoid it, parried the attack and kicked
Hobenrûd's chest, throwing him on the ground.

Smiling, Rovias looked at his fallen foe, prepared to finish him off, and saw a piece of metal
beside him. Startled, he looked at his own sabre, it was broken. A large chunk of metal, near the
tip, had broken off. Then he felt something hit his chest, hard. An arrow, shot by Gilbert, the
legends say, although no hard evidence of that exists. Ruann Rovias fell over the starboard of the
ship, still holding his broken sword, into the sea below.

edit Chapter 23
"Across the eastern sea, lie a land of luscious lavish.\ Across the eastern sea lie a land of ragged
runts.\ Across the eastern sea lie a land of weary wares."
---'Cross the eastern sea

After the battle, the inquisitors had a meeting to decide what to do with Hobenrûd and the others.
To not give any possible reader of this work the feel I am concentrating far too much attention on
minor characters, suffice to say that they decided to not punish them, since they helped to protect
the Order's property, but the inquisitors would not protect them anymore. They were alone from
now on.

As the five of them left the ship, on the port-city of Akumba, the captain remembered Hobenrûd
of a promise his, before closing the drawbridge, and no matter how much they asked, Hobenrûd
dismissed the matter as "of no importance". And thus, they finally crossed the great eastern sea,
and reached Sumdo. Ready to start another journey, on a strange land.

The "city" of Akumba (Maybe by Sumdonian standards, but it would never be considered a city
if it was in the Continent) was rather small. Apart from the port, (Run by Sardinian investors) it
seemed to be still stuck in the old ages. The streets were littered with rotten food, ripped
clothes...other more disgusting kinds of dirtiness...and beggars, most of dark complexion, while
carriages decorated with gold transported the important Sardinian investors from their homes to
their duties.

And as she walked through the dusty streets, looking for either a transportation or a guide that
could get them to Jyptia, Marin couldn't help but feel...disgusted by the state of the city. While
Anita did her best to not look at the beggars, while she waited for Drindell...for someone to
realize that they couldn't just leave them there.

Instead, they kept walking, a little uncomfortably maybe, but they kept walking. And they
walked along the main street, stopping only when they found a plaque near an alley, telling them
that the "Nfarah, travlin gide" was in that direction. And checking it, they found two small
animals tied to a post and a run-down building, proving, without doubt, the veracity of the
plaque.
Gilbert glanced around and saw a man behind the counter of the establishment. "Can't be!", he
exclaimed, and, tapping at Hobenrûd's shoulder, continued, "Hoben, look at that! Come! ...And
you guys wait here," going into the building.

At the moment they crossed the entryway, the man behind the counter greeted them: "Hallo
kalimbes. Welcome to my humble..." he paused, trying to remember the word, "Estlabment. I am
very known in the ways of this land, so if you wish to visit the renown galhambas of Fergu
Munsur, I am very cheap, and..."

"Nfar?" said Hobenrûd, startled. But the man, "Nfar" still tried to steer the conversation to more
profitable topics, "Yes. That is the name on the sign, now..."

Gilbert interrupted him, "Don't remember me? Five years ago? In this very town," and Nfar's
face was first puzzled, the startled, and then joyful. "The ruivocan kalimbes? So...the info I got
you was good?" he asked, really curious.

Gilbert looked around the decrepit building, "Oh yes, very good. We stormed Hukbaba Castle
that very night. From what I see here, I suppose the money we gave you was not as good?" he
asked. Nfar grinned, showing his scores of yellow teeth, except for the occasional cavity, and a
gold one, "After the tooth, I didn't have much jabembe to spare, and thought setting up a business
would get me more. I spent nearly everything with it, and by Geres' sustenance, this building was
in a much better state when I did."

Hobenrûd felt bad for him, but quickly remembered the reason he went there in the first place,
"Hard to hear it, but cheer up! Your business seem slow, so we have a proposal for you.",
Hobenrûd said, and proceeded to explain what he could do to help Nfar.

While Gilbert and Hobenrûd talked with Nfar, Anita's attention was drawn to a woman, a ragged
woman lying on the ground, not moving. Marin felt her heart constrict in disgust. There was a
dead woman here. And then the dead woman groaned in pain, so Marin, surprised, showed Anita
the wounded woman, and told her to go help. Anita shrugged, visibly worried, "I can't...I don't
know...what I can do."

Then Anita fidgeted, and glanced around, looking for Drindell, that was nearby, examining some
strange red plant closely. She went to him, and told him something that made him look behind
his back, to the fallen woman. He walked toward her and cast a healing spell, pressing blue
leaves on her wounds, before taking an old bread from his bag and giving it to her.

The ragged woman ate the bread furiously, caring not about its horrible taste, while profusely
thanking her benefactor. After glancing at her with pity, Drindell, turned to Anita. "I tell ye lass,"
he told her, "That's one of the reasons I became a mage. What's the use of needing less training,
if you can't do anything without those 'artefacts'? When ye have time I'll show you something
even a 'sorcerer' can do, using some herbs. Ye don't need magic for that fer that, lass. Dun
worry."
Marin didn't move once for the whole time. And only watched, disgusted, the scene unfolding.
After it was done, and before Anita went to her side again, Marin reflected her own actions. She
asked herself why she asked Anita to do something, instead of simply looking elsewhere, since
she was so disgusted. It was an impulse. The woman groaned and she couldn't help but to ask for
someone to help her.

But she, herself, she didn't move, maybe because she was disgusted. ...Was she? She had felt
disgusted before, when she looked at gross food, or the small, crushed rats, she found in the
palace, crushed by someone that was too lazy to put the corpse out of the corridors. She felt bad
for the rats, but not so much as she felt for that woman. She saw wounded people before, and felt
bad for them...in the hospital of Pulti, for example.

It was not disgust what she felt there, it was not disgust what she felt now, and it maybe was not
disgust what she felt for the crushed rats in the palace corridors. Or it was, but with another
feeling mixed in...Pity. Pity, that was what she felt. And she couldn't help it anymore. She felt
bad seeing people being hurt for the sole reason that they couldn't protect themselves.

But before she could reflect anymore, the five seconds between Drindell talking and Anita
thanking him had passed, and Marin's attention was taken from her inner monologue. "Are you
okay?" Anita asked her, as she got out of her reverie. "Y-yeah...I'm...alright," Marin answered,
stammering.

Anita looked like she would say something, but stopped, as Hobenrûd and Gilbert left the
establishment, followed by the owner. "Okay people, we got ourselves a ride to Jyptia, so get on
one of those dragons," he said, pointing at some lizard-like quadruped animals nearby.

"Those are dragons? I thought they could...fly," Marin asked him. He dragged her by her arm to
one of the scaly beasts, and told her that "Some do. There are various kinds of them. Now, get on
it. We'll have a looong road ahead."

edit Chapter 24
"The sun is our friend, the cobras are our rivals, the water is our savior. We are the people of
the desert, and the desert is our father, and home."
---Chieftain Gagembe M'handi

After several days of travel, the group reached the edge of the Juma desert, and started the long
traversing of it. They had stocked enough water for the seven days of travel, but one of the urns
fell to the ground and spilled its life-giving contents all over the scorching sands. And now, they
needed to find an oasis soon, or they would not ever reach civilization again.

After the fifth day of travel, they found a tall rock formation, and a flag stuck on it. "Kalimbes!
This be the symbol of the Gumbis! Gargaue! They know this desert better than Iself. They can
give us water...they should be close," said Nfar, climbing the rock and looking for any signs of a
Gumbi village on the horizon. But by the way his face went from gleeful to desperate, whatever
he saw, it wasn't good.
"I see smoke. Too smoke for an firepit. I think they was attacked, and their zalus was burned,"
said Nfar, before quickly climbing down, mounting his dragon, and riding toward the village.
The others followed closely behind, no one daring to say a word. The horned steeds carried them
over the scorching sands, their heavy tails scurrying behind. Getting closer and closer to the
source of the smoke.

It was not until they reached the village that they understood the destruction the village had
suffered. Only one hut was standing, and even then, the roof was partially burned. Bodies were
scattered throughout the ground, men, women, elders and children alike. And survivors were
nowhere to be seen. The only thing that survived the destruction intact was a crude clay well.

"A well! Bring the vases!" said Gilbert, enthusiastically, while running towards it and drinking
from the bucket. "What?" he asked, "It's really bad that this happened to them. But we can do
nothing about it, so we better think about ourselves," and then he turned the bucket over,
swallowing as much water as he could, and letting much splash on the ground.

The others decided to search the burnt remains of the village for any signs of survivors. And after
minutes of fruitless search, they gave up and went back to the well. That is when they heard a
soft sob, from a nearby debris, inside a broken cabinet. Gilbert went over and opened it, and the
sobs became screams.

Nfar started talking in gibberish to the child inside the cabinet. And the kid ran towards him and
hugged his lower body, talking in gibberish too. Nfar took the kid in his arms. She was skinny,
probably being hidden in the cabinet for at least two days, only leaving to drink water, she was
wearing only crude garments made with animal pelts, and her upper body was uncovered.

"A rival tribe attacked the village, with the help of white men. I think they was sardinians...The
Gumbis sometimes raided sardinian outposts. But they don't gone back from where they came.
They kept going, the direction where we want to go," said Nfar, still making sure the kid wasn't
hurt.

"Sardinians? Is it possible that..." started Drindell, only to be quickly interrupted by a "I knew we
shouldn't let they escape! They probably fled to another port, and are trying to cut our way." said
by Hobenrûd while kicking a bucket on the ground, and cursing the sardinians loudly.

Anita seemed worried, "Do you think they know where we're going?"

"Probably," answered Gilbert "Otherwise they wouldn't go our way. We must find another way
into Jyptia."

Nfar entered the conversation at this point "There's not other way. Jyptia only managed to be the
xenophobe bastards they are thanks to that. There is only two ways in their kingdom, through
canyons. One is two, three days from here, other is five, six weeks."

"We could climb the hill," Anita pointed out, "and go around them."
Gilbert nodded, "It'll take more time...but yes, it's probably the safest way. I haven't seen their
army, but we're probably vastly outnumbered...and they're sardinians, above all. Nothing we
have can be compared to their equipment. Even with Drindell and you...I don't think we have a
chance."

"Alright, Kalimbes. But before this, let's stop at Jambagunda and make sure this kid will be taked
care of."

Hobenrûd looked at the kid, "Sure. And we need to do something about the sardinians in Sumdo,
after the king is taken care of. I mean, this place is in shambles."

Anita looked at him, impressed. With all the problems he had, he still cared much about all the
people around him, everywhere he went, even more than himself. He may be crude, arrogant and
not very smart, as she herself put it a few days before, but he still did everything to help
everyone, selflessly. And as he went back to his dragon and mounted, Anita followed him, still
impressed.

edit Chapter 25
"I have been in other nations, and I have seen foreign lands. And after this, I can certainly
conclude that we are the only light of civilization in this dark, barbaric world."
---Frenciano Rochell, Gran Mayor of Ginalia

Jambagunda's streets were dead, and the city was inhabited only by ghosts. No sound was heard
anywhere, no window, and no door was open in any of the buildings, no living soul was seen on
the streets. But there was no fire, no blood, no corpses. It was as if the whole population simply
disappeared overnight.

That is what the group noticed while traversing the city on their dragons, observing the buildings
around them, looking for a stable or at least a place where they could tie their horses, before they
could start a thorough search for any signs of life.

Unfortunately, before long, heavily armoured soldiers, and tribesmen with leather armour poured
out of the buildings on both sides of the street and surrounded them. Moments after this, a
familiar red-haired man calmly came out of one of the buildings, saying, "Why, you here? What
a remarkable coincidence!"

His sword was repaired since the last time they saw him, and it now had a T-shaped blade,
apparently made from a lesser material than the sturdy sardinian steel. It was probably reforged
with one of the tribesman weapons, a half-circle blade with a handle.

Nfar yelled at the tribesmen angrily, something that sounded like "Rabakabua", and one of the
blades furiously embedded itself in his leg. The man gave a piercing scream and collapsed,
miraculously managing not to fall on the girl.
Rovias chuckled, and said, in a low, amused voice, "Barbarians," before ordering the members of
the freedom army to be captured and brought into a building nearby, where most of the town's
population was imprisoned. Only, instead of being put together with the others, they had their
own cell.

And it was inside it they passed the next three days. Apparently, Rovias didn't wish to kill them.
He would capture them and transport them to Sardina, where they would undergo trial for high
treason. They knew they had no chance of surviving the trial, so they asked why didn't he just
kill them right away, instead of giving himself trouble.

"Isn't it obvious? What will be the fun of killing you now, when I can see you squirm in the
courts? Day after day of hopelessness as the justice officials pretend to give you a chance. Day
after day of waiting for the inevitable. Then a slow agonizing execution. Standing in the line,
walking towards the executioner's axe. Seeing your companions heads' falling to the moist
ground. One by one. Slowly and surely, like death."

Hobenrûd groaned. the vines binding his arms were too tight. And not by accident, probably.
"Then let Nfar go," he said.

Ruann did not sneer, nor did he snicker. It was something in-between; indescribable. And yet, it
indescribably caused both fear and loathing on all that saw it. The dark servants of Kiros, from
the forgotten north, would not strike so much terror, or anger in the hearts of their enemies as did
Ruann Rovias at this moment.

Changing from that expression to a simple scowl, he said, "This...barbarian?" and kicked his
groin. Hobenrûd tried to tackle Rovias, but lost his balance and hit the wall on the other side of
the room. Anita stood still, but her eyes went from Drindell's calm face to Marin's indignant
expression, glancing at Gilbert's scheming eyes. She wanted someone to do something.

Rovias glanced at Hobenrûd, who couldn't get up after hitting the wall, and chuckled. "Well,
tomorrow we depart. I hope you like the trip," and left, locking the door behind him. Seconds
later, after he was sure Rovias was away Drindell muttered some words and ripped the vines that
bound him, right in front of the others' surprised eyes.

"What? Oh, those are Kiliophiles vines. They are very useful for physical augmentation. I
suppose those fellows don't know much about it," he said, getting up. After he freed the others,
he admitted he had no idea how to escape the town.

Gilbert thought for a moment, "Well...if we manage to flee the town, and reach the gates to
Jyptia, that are about...one day from here...well, the jyptians allow no living foreigner on their
land."

"...except mages...so the sardinians...they can't enter Jyptia."

"Fine, now that we're through discussing, can we go before they open that dammed door!?" said
Marin, a little impatiently, starting to leave through the narrow window.
Hobenrûd was rummaging through the pile of metal and wood on the corner, apparently Ruann
didn't have time to find a good place to put them, and trusted that the vines would leave the
group powerless "By Sallund's Holy Light! They took that expensive armour Hollen gave me.
But luckily they left my sword. I guess they didn't have somewhere safe to put it on hand, with
all the unrestrained people out there."

And taking most of their gear with them, the members of the freedom army and Nfar left their
imprisonment in the warehouse. Nfar told the others he knew a nearby village where a relative of
his lived, and left the group. Western Sumdonians were specially not welcome in Jyptia.

"They have no reason to kill the girl, someone will take care of her in the town," were
Hobenrûd's parting words to Nfar. And with nothing more than a nod, the other man ran away.

"We hafta hurry, lads," Drindell said, after some time. Marin followed Drindell's gaze to
Jambagunda, where torches were being lit. The sardinians already found out that they had
escaped. And they still had one day of travel in front of them.

edit Chapter 26
"No matter how dark is this night, tomorrow, the sun will surely rise again."
---Old Jyptian proverb

For one day they fled east, going through plains, woods and swamps. For one day, they evading
the Sardinian search parties, and going as fast as possible, to enter the safety of Jyptia. For one
day they walked, ignoring the pain and the fatigue. And now, as they traversed the bogs of
eastern Jahag, a group of Sardinians drew near.

"Are you sure we're going in the right direction?" asked Marin, breaking the silence. Drindell
answered, without stopping, "Yes. The Rubix Cube constellation is always to the south,
navigators use that all the time."

Marin looked at the sky, there was a group of very bright stars, forming a square inside another.
Luckily they had Drindell in the group, since no one else knew navigation apparently. The only
thing Hobenrûd managed to do was getting his cape ripped by bushes.

Suddenly, her feet dipped into the mud that seemed firm. They reached another swamp.

"Yes! We are already halfway through the bogs, we should reach Jyptia within minutes."

Marin could see the top of two very tall cliff sides above the trees. She realized that they were
near the canyon entrance of Jyptia.

"Come on, just a little...bit more," she could see that Gilbert was struggling to keep walking,
even with Hobenrûd's help. And she knew that somewhere behind them, the Sardinians were
coming closer and closer.
They managed to keep walking through the mud fast enough to keep ahead of the Sardinians,
and the colours of the sky changed, telling them that the sun was raising.

Suddenly, they were out of the bogs and there were only clean, featureless plains from the point
they stood and the enormous sand-coloured gates to Jyptia. Atop the gates, archers saw the
people leaving the bogs and running desperately toward them.

One of the little people at the distance turned around and launched three fireballs into the bog,
before continuing running. After some time, many other people appeared from the bogs. One of
the archers called the others and pointed at the commotion.

"They are being chased! We need to..." but another archer, older, stopped him, "It's none of our
business. Our only duty is to stop anyone from entering."

"But..."

"No, son. Our duty is the only thing that matters. When you finish your training, you might
understand."

They saw the little people running, and the chasers closing in. Soon enough it'd be over.

Suddenly, one of the summoners rushed onto the roof, from one of the lower rooms. "By Geres!
What are you people doing? Drindell is going to be killed!"

Hearing the name of Drindell, the archers immediately prepared their bows, and arrows rained
from the wall onto the Sardinians. Panicking, and being attacked by an enemy they couldn't
reach, Rovias roared in rage and ordered the retreat.

The members of the freedom army didn't stop until they finally, battered and exhausted, reached
the mighty impenetrable gates of Jyptia, where they, without exception, fell to the ground.
Seconds later, the summoners started the ritual of opening, and the gate magically dissolved.

A single summoner appeared from behind the gate, "Long time no see Drindell, I trust your
voyage was enjoyable."

Chapter 27
"The Gods reward the loyal, the honourable, the kind, the hospitable and the faithful with
unending glories both in life and death. Go forth, and serve the Gods, by serving your fellow
men."
---The Book of Sallund

The walls to Jyptia were created long ago with very potent magic, coupled with special magical
artefacts, that shaped the very earth into the mighty structure. The most resistant wall in recorded
History. Never anyone managed to pass that wall without permission of the Jyptians, and only a
few even try.
Inside the massive structure there were barracks, where the gate guards and summoners stayed,
waiting for any visitors. Months would pass by between the rare traveller would reach the walls,
and even more time until anyone was admitted in. But the guards in charge of the walls, and their
families, had access to the best food, drinks, books, services and clothes, for free, since the very
security of the whole kingdom depended on them.

It was the day after they astounding arrival, and the members of the Freedom Army only left the
infirmary a few minutes ago. The magic of the summoners cured their injuries, but they still had
to rest until now. When they finally received new clothes and left the infirmary, the noticed that
almost everyone in the barracks was wary of them, when they asked why, Drindell answered
impatiently:

"For the same reason they had the trouble of building this wall. They're wary of outsiders, lad."

"Not all of us," said the first summoner they met, coming nearer them, "But you are lucky to be
travelling with Drindell anyway, otherwise, you'd be dead by now."

"Zanzoo...long time no see, my good chap, solved your problem with Kilem?"

"The kiniuk gave up three weeks after you left. They don't make good disciples anymore. How's
Klamor by the way?"

"...Dead. We're having problems in Ruivoca."

"The new king?" Drindell, looked at him, surprised, "Some people here know there's a whole
world outside these gates. Too bad about Klamor though. He was a great wizard, and a good
man. I trust you accomplished his last demands?"

"Yes," said Drindell, taking a small box linked to a straw, around his neck, "Burnt with his own
spell."

"Then you must be on your way. But...besides this, what else brings you to these lands?" he
paused for a second, observing Drindell's expression, "You wouldn't bring these others
otherwise."

"Good old Zanzoo, always a step ahead of me. If I didn't know you I'd say you learned to see the
future while I was away. Yes, there are other reasons. Like I said, we're having problems in
Ruivoca."

"I see. I beg that you don't tell much more. I don't think my countrymen would approve of your
ulterior motives, and I am far too loyal to openly lie to them. Last time Jyptia aided other people
in their affairs...those were dark times. And the great majority of our people will need many
years to recover."

Drindell nodded and looked through the window, to the swamp and the desert beyond.
Marin and the others were being lectured by another summoner about Jyptia. They were given
golden pendants with green jewels.

"Those are the sign that you are accompanied by a wizard. You will have free and safe passage
as long as you wear them. Never take those off. Try not to stray too far from Drindell. It is not
common for a wizard to bring so many companions. People will be suspicious, but they shall
honour the ancient pact between our people. Also..."

He turned face-to-face with the group, "There may be some of us...a chaotic lot, that don't
recognize the right of outsiders to walk upon our lands. I assure you that it is a very small
fraction of our population, but they exist. They are, of course, unlawful, but the long-seeing eyes
and far-hearing ears of the amon cannot see all. I would be careful, and keep within the
more...ordered parts of Jyptia."

Hobenrûd smirked, "People trying to kill us? Now, that's unusual."

Marin lightly kicked Hobenrûd's ankle, eliciting a frown from him, before saying, "Don't worry
sir, we will take care of ourselves."

edit Chapter 28
"The very safety and survival of Jyptia depends on our ability to protect our lands from
outsiders."
---Amon Jeh

Leaving the men behind to do their business, Anita and Marin decided to go explore the city.
They wandered down the many streets, taking a bit of time to look here and there, inspecting the
variety of items for sale. But to Marin, it seemed that Anita was looking for something...else,
something which would not be so easy to find. Indeed, by nightfall, though they had wandered
through over a hundred stores, their purse was as laden with money as when they had started.

"I guess we'll just have to admit that we failed to find anything of interest, and search some more
tomorrow," said Anita to Marin, who was still a bit confused as to what Anita was doing here
anyway. They had now gone a long way from the gates where Drindell probably still was...

"What are you looking for, exactly?"

"I don't really know," Anita replied, as if mesmerized by the variety of things out for sale along
the commercial avenues and not looking at Marin at all. "But, I will know when I see one." With
this said, they turned around to begin the long journey back home, and came face to face with an
envoy of guards, the captain of which was facing them with an angry face.

"Outsiders!" he shouted in his guttural voice, "what have you to explain?"


Anita merely pointed to the jewel she wore around her neck, and Marin did the same. Yet the
captain's anger did not dissolve, it merely hardened. "So, someone disloyal dog has forsaken its
loyalty to Jyptia and allowed you two rascals into our land? Men!"

"Sir!" was the shout from about two dozen subordinates, each wielding a weapon.

"Get them!" Then the captain walked backward while his men surged forward with their
weapons out.

Marin drew her sword with a szzzzinggg! and brandished it as if her life depended on it, ready to
strike, and Anita took out her giant green fan, waiting for the optimal moment to strike. The
forces clashed, and all around them were the screams of the denizens rushing away from the
battle and all possible danger. Though vastly outnumbered, Marin had the advantage of
position--she could not be surrounded--allowing her to clash again and again with the two
nearest soldiers.

The metallic clanging of blades was interrupted by a falling crate of oranges, the round fruits
rolling around on the ground and tripping the nearest soldiers, who struggled and collapsed in a
heap, allowing Marin to point the sharp end of her sword at the four soldiers beneath her, ready
to slice their heads off. She smiled with pleasure as the other soldiers backed away from the
walk-in market stall. "Well? Have you four anything to say?" Marin asked the four soldiers
sprawled on the ground.

"You're screwed," was the reply of one. Marin was about to chop his head off when suddenly a
dozen more soldiers appeared at the entrance of the market stall and aimed their bows and arrows
at them. In desperation, Marin looked from side to side but saw no escape route.

Then an idea hit her. She ducked to the ground, lying flat on the earth like the four soldiers, and
as if on cue, Anita let loose the fury of her fan, generating a twister which spun outward from the
stall, ripping apart the roof and picking up a variety of fruits. The archers fired their arrows,
several of them being knocked aside from the winds but the others finding their mark. Anita
gasped as the iron-headed arrows bit into her tender flesh, and soon collapsed from the
excruciating pain, while her life blood drained away. The twister meanwhile sped at the soldiers
rapidly, picking them up with remarkable ease while the astonished captain ran away as fast as
he could. Nearly all the soldiers flailed around helplessly in the air as the twister ascended the
clouds, taking them along with it.

Marin looked at the shallow-breathing Anita and knew that she would have to find help as soon
as possible. She struggled to bring Anita into an upright position so that she could bring her
along, away from the market stall. She saw a few civilians nearby, and shouted to them, "she's
gravely injured and needs assistance now!" Several of them rushed to where she could only hope
were doctors or wizards of some sort...

Just then, Drindell and Zanzoo stumbled out into the marketplace, Zanzoo nearly dropping the
crystal orb he held in his hands. "There!" shouted Drindell, and rushed over to Anita's side before
taking a potion of red liquid from out of his sash and dabbing Anita's wounds with it. "She'll be
okay," he said to the worried Marin right next to her.

"What has happened?" asked Zanzoo as he too rushed up.

"We got ambushed by two dozen xenophobic soldiers," replied Marin.

"Well, where are they now?"

"Anita's whirlwind carried them all away into the firmament." Looking back at Anita, Marin
noticed that the red liquid had disappeared, and along with it, the wounds. The arrows were
being steadily pushed outward, and one by one they collapsed onto the ground.

"Don't worry, Anita is now made whole again," said Drindell. "Another reason why I advocate
the path of a wizard rather than that of a sorceress." He retrieved a pink-purple potion from his
sash, and uncapped it underneath Anita's nose, causing her to awaken.

"You feeling better?" asked Drindell. Anita nodded, then realizing that she was no longer
injured, joyfully smiled with evident relief.

"How'd you know that we were here?"

"When I saw that you had left, we knew you were bound to get yourself in trouble, so I looked
into my crystal ball and used it to track you two," said Zanzoo.

"And now, it's time we get back, before they come again," said Drindell, and they returned to the
barracks where the weary travellers would be staying for the night. "Oh yes, what were you
doing wandering the streets?" Zanzoo asked Anita.

Anita shrugged, a bit embarrassed that she had caused the two wizards so much trouble. "Just an
artifact."

Zanzoo laughed. "Oh, newcomers! Never know the differences between Jyptia and the rest of the
world, do they? Look here, Anita. You won't be finding artifacts randomly in the market stalls.
Jyptia has a lot more magic folk than elsewhere, so any and all magical items have been found.
Now, if you would like, I'll give you my crystal ball," Zanzoo offered.

Anita smiled. "Oh, how can I accept? I ought to get one on my own..."

"Now now now, if that's troubling you, I can instead offer to let you borrow it, and if you use it
to good effect, I'll let you keep it, how's that sound?"

Anita smiled again. "Thank you so much, Zanzoo," she said, holding the orb with one hand and
hugging the wizard with the other. Drindell and the others looked on with joy.
But before going, Zanzoo, still uttered some words, "The threads of time are too many and too
chaotic to be easily understood by human minds. You may easily see the present in nearby
places, but the farther in time and space you go, the less you can trust what you see in the ball.
So don't rely too heavily on it.

"A messenger was sent to the amon, with my recommendations. I have a certain degree of
influence in the court, so he should send a expedition of dragon-riders here, and then to Ruivoca.
I'd recommend you stay in the city and rest. If you were so desperate as to come to Jyptia, the
perils you face must be great, indeed."

edit Chapter 29
"A wizard must provide aid for those in need, despite of nationality or creed."
---Klamor, the Hydromancer

Shortly after the sun rose the next day, the party went out to town. They decided to stay near
Drindell, to make sure that events like those of yesterday didn't repeat. Marin and Anita,
knowing where the shops were, led them to the nearby marketplace, where they replenished their
supplies, and Gilbert bought some exotic goods from Jyptia, intending to sell them in Ruivoca.

Marin was looking at assortment of mirrors made from a strange silvery metal that reflected
better than bronze, when she felt something on her shoulder, she turned her head and saw a
skeleton hand, with golden rings and golden bracelets tapping her shoulder, she shrieked, jumped
out of the spot and pushed the skeleton hand away.

Hobenrûd laughed, and waved with the skeleton arm, Marin panted for some time, calmed down,
and laughed too, faintly, "Jarnia! Have you been stealing tombs now?"

"I bought it on one of those tents. It's called a inoss. Decorative skeleton parts with gold. I
thought it was nice-looking," explained him, between gasps of laugh, "Also, I wanted to lift the
mood. We can't do anything until the dragon-riders come, so we better enjoy ourselves."

"And that's your idea of enjoying yourself?" she said, trying to sound stern, but smiling.

"Well, that's one of my ideas," Hobenrûd started saying, before being interrupted by Drindell,
"But before anything, I have a very important thing I must do. You might wish to come together.
It may be interesting."

And soon thereafter the group started hiking mount Kalamar, just outside the town, led by
Drindell. Hobenrûd, still waving the skeleton arm around, asked what they were doing.

"Hiking up the mount," said Drindell, said, matter-of-factly.

"But what for?" Asked a curious and anxious Anita.


"Have patience lass, I told you it might be interesting to see. But one thing I can tell you, this
mount was the home of my master, Klamor, before he moved out from Jyptia due to...political
disturbances. He lived at the top of it, in a cave he shaped from the earth, under the eyes of
government officials, when he was denied the right to live in the town."

"Interesting. I suppose Klamor left useful artefacts in his home?" asked Gilbert, already thinking
on the possibilities and advantages this would give his movement.

"No," said Drindell, holding a box on his hand, "I believe what he didn't bring with him was
looted already."

"So...what are we going to do there?" said Hobenrûd, touching Marin's shoulder again with the
arm ("Stop 'doing that!" she said, still smiling).

"You'll...oh, there it is," they had reached the top of the mount, where, on the midst of shrubbery
and grass, two tall pillars of sand stood motionless, on either side of a cave, too spherical to be
natural, carved on a large rock formation.

The group walked to the cave carefully, pausing to examine the pillars of still sand. Except for
Drindell, that stood behind, with his arms crossed, still holding the box.

"What? Is there something wrong?" asked Marin. But Drindell didn't answer, he walked to the
column to right, took a wristband from his bag and put it on, before, while whispering some
words, inserting his hand into the pillar, and moving it up and down, as if searching for
something. After some time he took his hand out of the pillar, holding a transparent sphere filled
with orange liquid. The pillar disintegrated.

He did the same on the left pillar, this time, taking a sphere filled with purple powder, under the
puzzled stares of the rest of the group. He then opened the box that he carried, and put the two
spheres in it. Then he closed the box and shook it violently, presumably breaking the spheres,
and said:

"These are the ashes of Klamor, he told me that when he died I would have to do that for him,
since I was the last person living he could trust with such," he then opened the box and poured its
contents on the ground, a black liquid.

"When I was a child, I was the weakest lad in the whole village, I had no interest in farming, or
hunting, I preferred to look at the plants, read books on them, see how things worked, how the
flies looked like closely. And that, in my village...I would be better off as a bird born without
wings.

"But one day, a man appeared on my doorstep, terribly wounded. My mother and I cared for the
man for almost a week, time that he passed almost invariably unconscious. The man had a bag
-the one that I carry now- filled with strange things, that in my childish mind, I found interesting.
Most interesting was an incomplete translation of Encyclopaedia Magicka, that, as I know now,
Klamor was working on.
"I ended up burning down a house with my ineptitude and curiosity. There was much commotion
and they threatened to kill me. The next day Klamor woke up, and, hearing of all that happened
from my crying mother, and she asked Klamor, not knowing he was a renowned wizard, since
foreign news weren't important in our backwater village, to take me to my relatives in Pulti,"
Drindell paused for a second and looked down to the ground.

"Klamor agreed, but in the way there, I asked him to teach me how to do things like those I done
in the village again. His only answer was to look at me and raise his eyebrows. I told him that I
wanted to learn how to do that right, so that when I do it again in a good way.

"Klamor told me, and I remember very well, until today, 'Well...I have no disciples, and I have
no pressing matters, and for you, an uneducated boy to do such a thing, a minor trick for me, yes,
but still an astounding feat for you...I believe you have talent, boy, and yes, I accept the duty to
train you in the arts of magic, as long as you recognize me as your master.'

"I accepted, and in the next day I took the disciple's oath. Then, he took me to Jyptia, where I
completed my training. We remained good friends when my training was over, and we served
the new king, after our return, in the wars against Lukavia and Sumdo. But then, after some time,
the degree of corruption of the king became too blatant to be ignored, and Klamor actively
fought him, while I stood back.

"Klamor was killed, and I went back to my village. Mum was dead, died from the plague, didn't
have money to pay for medical assistance. I went to Pulti and managed to show the population
there that revolution was the only way. And the rest you already know," he finished, still looking
intently to the ground.

"And he wanted that his ashes be thrown here. But why you took that things from the pillars?" at
that moment, the puddle of black liquid started glowing and an eerie sound, with no visible
source, could be heard at the top of the mount.

Starting from the puddle, the grass around the mount started becoming more and more verdant
and flowers started sprouting out of the ground, soon, the top of the mount went from a arid
savannah with dead grass and some shrubbery, common throughout Jyptia to a field green grass
and flowers of varied colours. And, at the place where the black liquid fell to the ground, a
strange tree grew up.

What other trees would take months to grow, this one grew within seconds, and it kept growing
until its height was about three meters. Then branches grew out of the trunk and leaves sprouted
out of them. This was the greatest tree in the land of shrubbery and grass that was Jyptia.

"Klamor wanted to give something back to the land he grew in. His last spell will make land
nearby more fertile, and neither this tree, nor these flowers will ever die while the spell is
working... But don't tell the Jyptians. Klamor never liked when people praised him for anything."

edit Chapter 30
"The veil of falsehood is a thick one, but the fire of truth will eventually burn through it."
---Proverb

After three days of waiting, the regiment from the amon finally reached the city.

The dragon riders, wearing sparkling bronze armour and mounted on mighty reptilian beasts
paraded through the city streets, toward the Jyptian wall. While the population watched, some
smiling, some cheering, some angry that aid was being given to the outsiders and some simply
mesmerized by the hundreds of soldiers.

The three or four regiments (sources conflict on this point) paraded around the town while an
envoy of the amon left the ranks, accompanied by two bodyguards to speak with the outsiders.
The members of the freedom army were waiting in the audience room of the mayor, located
inside the wall. Making sure they were presentable.

The envoy rode up the ramps built in the wall to allow mounted transportation. The bodyguards
entered first, and announced, "The most wise vizier Kalhim A'salub Jefezaar. Defender of Jyptia
and envoy of the amon. Be respectful on his presence all that fear the wrath of Geres."

The vizier entered the room on his dragon, a great, blue coloured beast, with large wings and
yellow eyes without pupils. Marin suddenly became wide-eyed, Hobenrûd asked what was
wrong, but she didn't answer. The vizier stepped down from the dragon, and proclaimed:

"In the name of the amon Rá, the great and invincible, Geres guide and give him glory, these
regiments of the mighty dragon riders will be offered to the Freedom Army to aid them in their
fight against the tyrannical rule of the current king of Ruivoca, and as a sign of our desire for an
enduring friendship with the future regim..." the vizier suddenly became wide-eyed, stopped
talking, and blinked a few times.

After some seconds, he blurted out, "P-princess Marin!? The-there must be a mistake! I...I can
assure you, your highness, the letter sent to the amon didn't...we...if he knew it was you and your
noble father asking for aid, obviously the amon would have sent ma-many more regiments. It
must be a cons..."

"What the hell?" asked Hobenrûd, puzzled.

"If we knew this was an official mission we...the ones responsible for this will be persecuted,
your highness, I can assure you...I-I'll go myself to the capital and request more regiments for
your father."

"Priscilla..." started saying a confused Anita.

"Did he say Marin?" asked a less confused Gilbert.

"This is a mistake. She's not...Marin is the king's daughter, Priscilla wouldn't..." tried to reason
Hobenrûd, mostly to himself, while Drindell kept silent.
"He's telling the truth," said Marin, unwilling to continue the deception, "Kalhim was sent to the
palace some months ago...to tell my father the amon wouldn't send any aid to Ruivoca..."

"What..." tried to say Hobenrûd.

"I...am Princess Marin of Ruivoca."

"Heh...I did think you were suspicious when I first saw you." said Gilbert, smiling, but with
scheming eyes.

"I am not sure I understand..." said the puzzled vizier.

"...You used us!" Hobenrûd yelled furiously, "You used me!"

"No! I..." Marin tried to reason.

"You just wanted to take the throne for yourself!"

"...yes, at first, but not now! I...I care about what we're trying to do!"

"'Yes, at first'? Now would be a good time for you to start lying again, bitch!" Hobenrûd yelled
again, lunging at Marin. The others constrained him, except for Gilbert, that stood away.

"Please! I was going to tell you...but...I thought that once you knew I was the princess..." Marin
tried to reason with him, but was interrupted by another furious lash, "What!? That we would
know the truth!? That you've been lying to m...to us all this time!"

"Calm down, lad." Drindell told him sternly.

"Don't tell me to calm down!" Hobenrûd answered angrily, and backed away from, Marin.
Without any other word, he left the room, followed by a much calmer Gilbert.

"I was going to tell..." Marin said again, too lowly for Hobenrûd to hear.

"It's not your fault lass, he just needs tim..." but Marin had already left the room, going to the
opposite side.

Anita recovered from the shock, "Why don't you seem surprised?"

"I am," Drindell said, "but even though her name changed, Marin is still the same person, he'll
just need time to understand that."

The vizier, still confused, scratched his chin, "What in heavens just happened here?"

edit Chapter 31
"Angry, she was so angry! She was angry because he didn't make her as angry as she thought he
would."
--The Curious Case of Sir Galfron d'Amela

Drindell had left the wall, to watch the parade, Anita decided to stay and see it from a distance,
through one of the windows. After some time she became bored and decided to watch it closer
too. In the way, she passed near Marin's room, and asked if she was alright. Marin didn't answer.

Anita decided to leave her alone, and kept going. A few minutes later, she saw Hobenrûd leaving
his room and going in the opposite direction, Gilbert stood in the doorway. She didn't want to
bother Hobenrûd, so she asked Gilbert, "Where's Hoben going?"

Gilbert glanced at her and went back to staring at nowhere in particular, before answering, "Kill
the bitch, I suppose," matter of factly.

"What!?" Anita exclaimed, he couldn't have meant what she thought, could he?

"He seemed pretty angry when he left, and he was talking about Marin."

"You...we gotta stop him!"

"I'd rather not interfere. I'm a crippled bowman, what good would I be?" he said, with a calm
smile.

"But...Drindell! I have...no, he's too far, he'll never...what I'm saying!? I've got to stop him
myself," she concluded. She wasn't with her artefacts, but she had to do something, so she ran to
Marin's room.

Marin heard knocks on her door, it was probably Anita again, so she didn't make a move to open
it. She didn't want to talk at the moment. But then she heard Hobenrûd's voice, she thought he
was going to listen to her, and in her enthusiasm, she didn't notice the controlled anger tone of
his voice.

She unlocked the door, and the moment she did so, it was violently flung wide open. The figure
of Hobenrûd appeared in the open portal, with his sword unsheathed, menacing.

"What you're doing!?" Marin asked, stepping back.

Hobenrud replied in a creepy, near baritone voice. "You...betrayed us.. DIDN'T you!?! It was
thanks to YOU the Sardinians knew where to find us. It was thanks to YOU that that guy almost
killed me. WASN'T IT!?!"

Marin backed off in fright, her voice quaking. "No, No! No, Hoben, listen to yourself, I saved
your life there. Remember?" Hobenrud took another step forward. "Would I have done it if I had
betrayed you?" asked Marin, emotionally distraught from her failure to convince Hobenrud of
her positive intentions.
Hobenrud only slightly slowed his pace and continued taking ponderous steps forward, shouting:
"Why should I believe you?!? Everything you ever told me was a big LIE! You NEVER cared
about the people I tried to help!" Hobenrud wracked his memory for what other reasons he held.
"Even... You were the responsible for their suffering! You and that demon father of yours!"

For a short moment he was at a loss for words, but then he resumed, hatred surging through his
veins: "You are everything I was trying to fight against!" he yelled at her.

Marin replied, though she was half afraid to speak. "H-Hoben...I... I didn't know of their plight...!
I... I didn't care--but that was because he told me that it was the right way!" Marin drooped her
head, unable to continue looking into Hobenrud's eyes. "When I joined you... yes, yes, you're
right, all I wanted was to get the throne," and she looked back up his impressive figure, tears on
her eyes. "But--not now... Not any more! I've seen so much of the pain that I didn't know about,
and I've--I've learned to care-"

"Stop...lying!" Hobenrûd said, hitting the wall with his claymore, making a deep cut in the soft
rock. Deep inside, he was struggling between two conflicting wills. He thought Marin to be quite
helpful, she had never left his organization... Yet the other half of his mind told him that she was
lying, that he hated her, he hated Marin, that was right... before he knew her, and that part of his
mind told him he had to keep hating her. He raised his blade yet again.

"Hoben, stop this!" Marin pleaded for mercy while instinctively reaching to the scabbard clipped
on her sash to pull out her kris, prepared to parry any attacks. She barely noticed her heavy
breathing.

Hobenrud tried to slash at her, but just as he did so the other side of his mind kicked in again,
stopping his attack halfway and giving Marin just the advantage she needed to block the attack.
He seemed to want to kill her, but didn't want her to die.

His deep voice continued fulminating. "You lied to me, you betrayed me, you...I trusted you, I
really trusted you. More so than Gilbert!! I thought that you might...might understand what I was
trying to do..."

Hobenrud halfway looked down, lost in thought. "In a way Gilbert couldn't. Gilbert couldn't care
about just another poor bastard even if he wanted to. But I thought you..." he spoke angrily but
his fury was faltering simultaneously. He then tensed, and gripped his flamberge even more
tenaciously, half expecting Marin to strike back at him in a desperate bid of survival. But Marin
did not strike back.

"Hoben, I did, and I still do. Just because I lied to you about who I was doesn't mean everything I
did was espionage." Hobenrud's only answer was to attack her again, though Marin sensed a
growing discomfort within the great warrior, as if his conviction was faltering every moment he
gazed at the intensity of Marin's defiance....

Chapter 32
"The future is just like that /being it good or bad / we will lose all we had /and may get nothing
for it (so sad)"
---Ode to the Present, fourth strophe.

At this moment, Anita, who had been hearing the swords hitting each other, entered the room
and instinctively threw her shoe at Hobenrûd, distracting him.

"Hoben, stop that!" Anita cried out, not knowing what else she could do. "She's still Priscilla; the
only thing that changed was her name! You will regret slaying her!"

In response, Hobenrûd hit Marin's sword with such power that the kris fell out of her hand, then
brought his flamberge in a furious, horizontal sweep. Noticing the attack coming, Marin
collapsed flat on the ground, narrowly avoiding the edge of death.

Anita tried to tug Hobenrud away, and was totally unprepared to be hit in her ribs by Hobenrud's
pommel. She took an involuntary gasp of air before crumbling onto the ground. Hobenrud
whirled around, shouting, "Stay out of this!"

Marin was still lying prostrate on the ground, and Hobenrûd stood over her, holding his sword
with both hands, as if he had not decided if he should cleave her or not.

Hobenrud looked at Marin with surprise, mouth agape and standing still. "What!?" He blinked.

"Hoben, I was going to tell you," Marin tried to explain in a pleading voice.

"Then why didn't you!?" he yelled again, tears on his eyes. "If you had told me earlier, and of
your own volition, I--I would've believed you."

"Then believe me now."

"You could've told me earlier!" he yelled once more, his voice faltering, while Anita regained
her feet, trying to think on something to do.

"Yes! I could!" replied Marin. "I could've told you when I saved your life, I could've told you in
Pulti, I could've told you in Sumdo and I could've told you in Lukavia! I could've told you, but I
didn't!... And there's nothing I can do about that. I'm telling you now, please... Believe me," On
her knees, Marin supplicated before him, tears streaking down her cheeks.

Hobenrûd stood there looking at Marin a few more seconds, questioning whether or not he really
wanted to kill her. After all, she really did seem to be sorry, and she had been such a help on
their travels...

Then, Hobenrud dropped the flamberge, which fell to the floor with a clang. He was immersed in
deliberation. "I--I can't do this. Gilbert's going to kill me," and let himself fall to the ground his
will exhausted.
A moment of silence.

"Gilbert convinced you to do this?" asked Anita, unbelievingly.

"No...well, I'm not sure. He wanted to get a ransom for you. But he...he said that it was probably
you that told the Sardinians and...I think he convinced me to do it while pretending not to,"
Hobenrûd said, with his face in his hands. Anita and Marin both remained speechless, trying to
figure out what the distraught Hobenrud was saying.

"But why would he..."

"Gilbert has a grudge with your father, and Gilbert takes grudges very seriously. You remember
what I told you about that commander in Daor? After everything was over... Gilbert sliced off
the commander's head, struck the arrow from his leg into the dead man's eye, and burned the
corpse in the fires from one of the villager's houses...Gilbert is not the kind of guy that forgives
easily..."

"So you're saying that he'll not accept having Marin with us?"

"I'm saying he's capable of doing anything to her, as long as it'll hurt the king."

"I doubt dad will care much about what happened to me, I betrayed him, you know?" Marin
responded.

"Gilbert doesn't believe that, and he probably won't," Hobenrud insisted.

"What...what we'll do with him?" asked Anita, now that she calmed down.

"We can't leave him in Jyptia, so we'll bring him to Ruivoca...then...I don't know, but we should
keep an eye on him," he said, then he took his sword again and stood up. He breathed heavily,
and knelt, his head bowed and his sword above it, held horizontally. Marin was puzzled.

"Princess Marion of Ruivoca... I, Dur Hobenrûd, leader of the Cherry knights, offer my sword to
you in submission and loyalty," he said. Marin stood up in the proud posture she had so carefully
practiced during her years in the court, not sure what to do, then she took the sword, touched his
shoulder with it and declared, "Dur Hobenrûd, in thankful recognition of services given to me, I
declare you Sir Hobenrûd, knight of Ruivoca."

They looked out a nearby window. A flock of glumbelies flew across the firmament in a circular
formation. Recalling the first days on the adventure, Marin remembered the omen of the strange
birds...

Hobenrûd nodded, looked up, and smiled. "Don't worry, Princess Marin, I have seen into your
soul, and have determined that you deserve the throne, and I will help you get it."
Marin gulped down the last of her fears, and nodded appreciatively. "Thanks, Hoben, for your
trust in me. I'll not let you down either. Come, get up." She helped the general back to his feet.
Yuri was at his left.

Hobenrûd nodded, "The dragons will probably be ready by tomorrow, we'll use the flying ones to
go Pulti and prepare the final offensive, while the land ones will have to take the longer route
through the sea, in three weeks or less they'll reach us, and we'll proceed to liberate the capital. In
less than two months, you should be the queen...and Marin..."

She looked at him again.

"I ho...I trust that you'll do your best for the people of Ruivoca."

She let her gaze fall to the floor, "I hope my best is enough."

edit Chapter 33
"The penultimate obstacle is always the hardest to surpass. When you reach the last your thirst
of victory is the greatest, and at the earlier ones you were enthusiastic. But at the penultimate,
all hope seems lost."
---—Lord Gortinghan

It was already a month since they had departed from Sumdo. Several months since Marin had
first met up with the then-called Cherry Wood Knights. This entity was now 'official', Gilbert
had declared, ticking off the various forces and notable individuals accompanying them: "...three
thousand dragon-riders courtesy of Jyptia, six Ruivocan members of the Freedom Army,
Drindell the Arcane... Hobenrûd, Sorceress Anita, and me. On top of that, Cherry Woods should
still have over three thousand warriors, courtesy of Lukavia, as well as about fifty of those
bandits that have been initiated into our ranks."

At the time of the declaration, Marin didn't protest about her name not being called, she knew
Gilbert would take much more time than Hobenrûd to get used to her, but she also knew he
would be much less straightforward about it. Instead, she was happy that he didn't try to actively
undermine her, and did her best to better their relations, though he usually didn't accept her help
in anything. There was between them a cold peace.

Things were indeed starting to look up. The winged corps went ahead, and the rest of their army
had already left Jyptia entirely, sailed across the seas to Ruivoca's coastline, and travelled over a
hundred miles inland. Along the way, they had marched through several towns and villages as
liberators, with nearly another thousand upstart warriors joining them in their campaign. And
through it all, they had encountered particularly little resistance, been greeted only as heroes, not
as foes. But there were rumours that the king was preparing a counter-revolutionary force with
the help of Sardina.
In the last few months, Marin used her spare time to train with the third artefact they had
obtained, but magic was even harder than she thought, and she was not able to do much
development. Drindell identified the lightning rod as an unique item, that was stolen from
Limoverik, the Storm Weaver. The sceptre was known as, among other things, the Stormstick.
Anita held on to her magical fan--the Ethereal Ire-- and trained the use of the crystal ball
regularly.

That evening, they were about to relieve a siege in another revolting city, known as Tarnish.

Gilbert called Hobenrûd to come to his tent in his afternoon, and Hobenrûd subsequently showed
up. "Yeah, seems like we'll have to get sidetracked again," thought Hobenrûd, listening intently
as Gilbert told him about the information he had learned from his men. "Maybe it's time we get
the others here." Gilbert nodded, lost in thought and planning a strategy for relieving the siege.
He still valued his friendship with Hobenrûd, but was colder around him than before.

Hobenrûd was careful, as he has been in the other occasions they met, "So...will there be any
problems? I mean, we have the dragons, right? So we can just go over the walls."

Gilbert gave him a piercing stare, and shoved the multicoloured pebbles that represented the
troops off the map, "They have a wizard," he said, sighing, "State Magician Filafannel, Drindell
can do a lot of damage himself, and he has nothing close to the resources Filafannel have. We
can't just send the dragons."

"Dammit!" Hobenrûd cursed, "And I thought it would be an easy ride from Pulti to Bahemet.
What we'll do?"

Gilbert hesitated for a second, seemingly measuring his words, "I...was thinking assassination."

Hobenrûd was a little shocked, "We can't...we can't do that, it's...not right."

"Just think about it," Gilbert tried again, not looking at Hobenrûd, but outside the window, "he
alone will be a major responsible for most deaths in our side, besides, he'll probably die anyway
with the battle, in the end, comparing the losses if we do or not do it, we'll have saved lives."

Hobenrûd seemed to be even more shocked, "Look, it's not just a matter of economics, of loss
and profit. We both know it's a different thing altogether to kill him if he attacks and murder him
on cold blood."

Gilbert groaned, pacing around, fidgeting, "By Jarnia, what's the difference? Look, some of our
soldiers can..."

"I will not agree with this!" Hobenrûd told him, loudly, "What kind of message do you think
that'll give to the people that believe we are better than the king? I will not do this, and if you
want to do this, then I recommend you to leave."
Gilbert's answer was to yell incoherently, stay silent for some time, sigh, and sit on the wooden
barrel nearby. He said nothing.

"We couldn't get to here without you," said Hobenrûd, standing up, and preparing to leave, "but
we can't do this kind of thing if we want to keep the trust of the people. If we want to be a
legitimate answer to the country's problems. We can't do this kind of things just because we are
winning."

Gilbert opened his mouth, as if he wanted to say something, but closed it.

Hobenrûd got up from the chair he was sitting on, looked at the dark night sky, and left, without
saying another word.

Oblivious to the growing tension in the leadership, Anita and Drindell conversed about irrelevant
things, near the nearby Old Keanson Lagoon, the old wizard was curious about her homeland, a
place he never saw since he aided Ruivoca in the war.

Suddenly, bushes nearby rustled, and an old woman appeared behind them, panting; the woman
was wearing a dress made of silk, but it was many parts of it were torn, and leaves were stuck all
over her. She seemed to have walked through most of the woods to their camp, probably coming
from the sieged city.

"Are you from the Freedom Army, I need to..." she started to speak, but was interrupted by a "Y-
your majesty?" by Drindell.

"I don't have time for this now, where is my daughter? I need to speak to her," the queen told
them, with her palm held up, visibly impatient.

edit Chapter 34
"And then light of Truth will illuminate the world, burning the eyes of unbelievers, and it will be
good."
---The Book of Sallund

Marin was lying on a mattress on the ground, inside her tent. The wind was whistling through the
tree branches outside, and the sun had risen for about an hour already. Last night, longbowmen
had climbed a mount and shot flaming arrows into the city, aiming for the makeshift tents of the
reinforcements that managed to break the siege earlier that day. Also, last night, her mother had
come to the camp.

It was rather shocking actually, to have her suddenly appearing in the night like this. Apparently
Eljabé was in the city in the moment of the siege, and that was the reason everyone was so
determined to protect it. She bribed the driver of her carriage to take her near the woods where
the Freedom Army had set their main camp, and traversed the forest until she found them.

And then she demanded to be brought to Marin.


She recalled it clearly now, but of course, she had been thinking about that since then. Her
mother came into the tent and ordered Drindell out, then, with the tent nearly empty and while
silence crept in, she hugged Marin, startling the young woman.

Marin tried to ask her where she came from, but the queen silenced her.

"You got skinnier. Are they feeding you well?" she had asked.

Marin had chuckled then, she and chuckled now, again.

"Don't laugh. It's a very important thing. You can't go underfed. And actually getting into the
battle, what were you thinking? Yes, he heard about it. He was disappointed, to say the least, but
forget him, I think it was a good thing. It was about time anyway. Your father would be
proud...But you have to take better care of yourself," she said, while inspecting Marin's arms and
legs.

Marin tried to explain to Eljabé that the least of her concerns were how much she was eating
lately. And that she didn't care what her father thought about it anyway.

"Oh no, no," Eljabé told her, "I'm not talking about him, I'm talking about your father. I
should've told you before, but I couldn't do it with him there...the baby that he declared he killed
after your father's murder. That was you. You're not related to that...man."

Marin didn't answer, neither she completely caught the information. Her brain seemed to have
turned off after the last third of the sentence.

"What?" she had asked.

Her mother took her hand into hers, and calmly repeated, "He is not your father. Rikerd was your
father. So you don't need to worry about him, about what he thinks. He killed your father."

Then she left, saying that Marin needed time to think about it, and Marin thought about it until
she slept, but it was only a short break, and she thinking about it now again. She understood what
this meant, but would she do about it? "Nothing," was the first answer that came to her head.
Because, what should she do? Did it even change anything?

She decided she would think about it later, the siege went on for one week, it was time to finish
it, before her fa...the king's forces could come to aid the city.

Marin left her tent, there was a commotion outside, Gilbert was being dragged by two other
people. She asked what was happening, "I dunno, I woke up just now, it appears they woke him
up by dragging him to prison," a guy answered. Marin looked for Hobenrûd, but she found Anita
instead.

"What in Sallund's name is happening!?", she yelled at Anita, to be heard above the cacophony
of voices.
"Gilbert was going to kill you," she answered, simply.

"What!? Are you sure? He was sleeping!"

"I've seen it at the crystal ball."

"But that guy..." Marin started, remembering the old wizard's advice "...Zanzoo, he said it
couldn't be fully trusted."

"Better to be safe than sorry, Marin."

"Uh huh, and you think Gilbert will just let it go after we release him."

"IF we release, he'll have to let it go, or he will have to go. It's for your own safety, you know?
After tonight's attack we'll be able to protect you again, so we'll release him. Now, please, go
back to your tent," she ordered, in a pleading tone.

Marin didn't, she went to Hobenrûd's tent instead, "You let Gilbert be arrested?"

He was sitting near a wooden table, a map of the area was open on it, an apple and three rocks
holding its corners, little coloured stones were also on the map, representing the troops. Yuri was
at his left.

He lifted his gaze from the map, and landed it on Marin's face, "It was my order."

"But why..."

He made a gesture with his hand that Marin couldn't interpret, "Anita saw in the crystal ball that
he..."

"I heard that. But the crystal ball can be mistaken, and you know it," Marin said, with a
conviction that she did not expect.

Hobenrûd stood up from the chair, "It only confirmed my suspicions. You know it as well as I do
that it could happen, sooner or later. At least we'll prevent it."

Yuri held his finger up, trying to speak, "Sir, if you may..."

But was cut short by Marin, "I'm not the king's daughter."

This time, it took some moments to Hobenrûd to speak, "What...do you mean?"

"My mother came here yesterday, remember? She told me that...I'm actually Rikerd's daughter.
Gilbert has nothing against me."

Again, it took some time for an answer to come, "As if he would believe that."
"What? You don't believe me now?"

"I do, really, Priss, but Gilbert hates you. He won't let that go so easily...especially not now that
we got him arrested," Hobenrûd explained, forgetting to mention just how much that was his
fault, "Now go back to your tent, the attack will happen today, we won't be able to protect you."

edit Chapter 34
"One day you wake up and realize that what you thought is not what you think, what you knew is
not what you know and that your beloved future is no more."
---Personal understandings on the nature of life, chapter 8

Marin was on her tent, she wasn't overly worried, really, but she felt uneasy. News had circulated
that Gilbert escaped the makeshift cell in which he was arrested. The attack was going on for
some time now, and the last dragon rider had just finished taking off. Hobenrûd, Anita and
Drindell had already gone to the battlefield, and were probably leading the troops and siege
machines to invade the city.

Her mother laid back to sleep again, her health wasn't very good for months, and she walked a
lot the other day. Marin decided to leave the tent. Down the hills she could see the city, ashes
were floating up and away from the burning buildings, but there were balls of bright energy
flying toward the little flies that were the dragons. The wizard apparently was doing exactly what
they feared.

A blurry sea of people were circling the city, as large siege towers and rams tried to break down
the walls and gates, and onagers threw rocks of varied sizes on the buildings. Apart from the
aerial battle, the attack seemed to be doing fine.

Then Marin heard a weird noise somewhere from her left, in the woods. It sounded
like...clanging metal?

She didn't hesitate before going into her tent taking her sword and leaving to check the source of
the noise, but, thinking back at later times, she thought that maybe she should.

She entered the woods, sword on hand, prepared to face any opponent, but the metallic clangs
had stopped, she heard another sound now, sounded like scratching.

After walking a little more, she saw a person running through the woods. It was too far, and the
trees blocked her sight, but she couldn't mistake that limp for anyone else's, it was Gilbert. She
went towards the overall direction he was running from.

There was a corpse there, a short man in dark clothing. One of his hands were lacking. It was the
Sardinian assassin, he was pretty close to the camp...could that mean...? Gilbert was going to the
battlefield, Marin made a quick decision and jumped on the closest mier she saw.
She was going to the city, even though she was not sure why. As she went, she heard another
extremely high-pitched bellow--it felt like a shockwave blasting through the woods, that loud
noise--then there was the earth-shattering quake as something monstruous collapsed somewhere
out there in the battlefield...

In the battlefield, things were going badly. The royal wizard had already downed five dragons in
one hour alone, two times the average battlefield casualties of the dragon corps. Meanwhile,
Drindell was nowhere to be seen. Behind the front lines, Anita was getting worried, for there was
seemingly little she could do to prevent the wizard Filafannel from steadily working to
eliminate--

Is that what he's doing? she thought to herself, as just then another dragon let loose a shriek,
flapping its wings helplessly in what seemed to be a vacuum directly underneath it. The war
beast began to drop toward the earth, an unearthly sight of a meteorite... Anita felt adrenaline
pulse through her, that feeling of the fight and flight starting to kick in at last, as she looked with
focused intent at the fan she held in her hand. We can negate vacuum with a burst of wind, she
surmised. Looking up toward the gradually dimming sky with renewed vigor, she raised her staff
exactly vertically in one hand, grasping it, as if sending her very soul into it. She had known it
for so long, it must not fail her now-- The half-doomed dragon was still dropping in its
accelerating descent as she tilted her staff clockwise to 2 o'clock and made a clean stroke from
right to left.

Emerging horizontally from her enchanted sweep emerged a hyperconcentrated twister of a wind
which within moments had reoriented itself and connected with the heavens above, blasting forth
with a power never before seen on that battlefield, a storm of swirling air-power spiraling off
with a vengeance toward the dragon, rising steadily higher and higher. As Anita watched
onward, she saw the unnatural vortex mysteriously dissipate right underneath the flailing dragon
as it came within a few hundred yards of the ground. The dragon's wings suddenly had an effect
again, helping to work against the down-fall velocity. Anita's eyes opened wide as the dragon
seemed to suddenly buckle from the clash of two opposing forces of magic...

But it wasn't enough. The dragon landed head-first into the ground, driving up a wall of dirt and
ichor with a resounding boom. Her heart sank.

As the smoke began to clear, she saw the great crater that had been impressed onto the ground.
Around it, all was clear, with countless bodies buried and half-unburied in the scattered sand.

Around her, the ground battle was coming to a close. Though Tarnish had a solid defense, it had
neither the firepower nor the flexibility of the mass of dragons soaring through the air and
breathing blasts of fire down on their hapless opponents. It was only the so far unlocated
Filafannel whose actions gave the defenders hope for victory... Sighing, she decided to head
onward, past the battles which were raging around the gates and over the curtain wall turrets.

Anita raised her green, leafy fan once more, and fanned it once in a mighty sweep. A raging,
concentrated tornado appeared right in front of her, and started hovering around the battlefield at
amazing speeds. Amazing even for Anita, she thought that she might have done something
wrong, because the whirlwind was out of control. And it was with shocked that she watched it
growing and sucking her in.

She was spinning, round and 'round... The blast of air that struck her as she tried to enter was
nearly unbearable, but it did not drop her either, and at that point there was only the wind
flashing past her. With eyes closed, she maneuvered around in a landscape of torrents, until she
reached a calm spot.

She opened her eyes. And was utterly shocked by the scene. The view of the world around her
seemed to flicker from the streaking air; she was sailing in relative peace some hundreds of feet
in the air; soldiers, victims of the winds, swirled around the outside, already half-dead and
buffeted by the winds; she alone was in the eye of the storm, a thin cylinder the length of the
tornado and about one meter wide; the mighty gust of wind rapidly progressed toward the walls
of the devastated castle. She could barely make out defenders down below, hundreds of feet
below her own feet; she knew they were about to shoot at her, such an unmistakable target; then
she saw the arrows swirling around along with the bodies of friend and foe alike, and knew that
the tornado had now gotten so strong it could shear anything that tried to pass through.

She setting sun was indeed impressive; even more majestic were the soaring dragons, their gouts
of fire bursting forth from dozens of mouths; and more graceful still was Anita, standing in an
absence, the image of her half obscured by the hundreds of swirling bits of debris still sweeping
circles around the twister.

As the gust of wind struck the castle walls, the latter gave away, immense chunks of building
blocks and furniture sucked into the giant funnel, to fall hundreds of feet to the ground, lying in
utter shambles. There was now yet another immense void in the once imposing and pure-white
castle walls.

But now the wind funnel was spent, and the scattering air sent the entrapped weapons, bodies,
and objects streaking out of the sky and toward the holocaust below. The gale went several more
yards before finally ceasing, leaving an immense, gaping hole in the castle defense, scattered
furniture, and an Anita with her knee completely dislodged. In the last moments of her
consciousness, she saw several awe-stricken guards walk up to her, standing over her, and speak
to each other...

And then, all faded into nil.

edit Chapter 35
"Blood, dust, swords, lances, pikes, miers, fire, walls, rams, smoke. I love the battlefield."
---King Ük, the red.

Marin reached the outskirts of the city seconds after seeing a whirlwind dissipating on the skies
and various bodies falling from it. Good, that meant Anita was still alive. She charged through
the flanks of the attacking troops, looking, inside the narrow streets of the city, for Gilbert, or
Hobenrûd.
The battle was going terribly, for both sides, archers tried to hit the fast-moving dragons, but the
few arrows that actually managed to hit the target couldn't penetrate the hard scales of
dragonskin. The mier she was riding trampled archers as she navigated the tortuous streets.

The battle raged overheads, with balls of flame and light going in both directions, and falling to
the ground with the deafening sound of destruction. The straw roof of various houses burned
brightly, and the peasants that hadn't fled the city before, tried desperately to do so now.

But gradually, she noticed that the twisting winds weren't coming any more. Afraid that
something might have happened to Anita, she rode her mier to the nearest group of soldiers who
weren't actively fighting, and asked them: "Where's Anita?" They didn't know, so she rushed
around, asking others of what they had seen of Anita, each time getting more and more
desperate. None of them knew, and could only watch on with despair as the royal practitioner
sucked down another dragon into the ground with a shockwave.

Then, she saw Hobenrûd, he was leading a band of about twenty armourclad soldiers against the
guards of a tower. She rode toward him, slashing at nearby enemies with the sword clutched on
her free hand, he was surprised to see her, as her mier assumed a upright position.

"What the hell are you doing here!?" he yelled at her, after telling the other people in his group to
halt. He was in horrible conditions, his cuirass was cracked, his face looked like he fell on the
mud various times, and there were drops of blood all over his armour.

"Gilbert escaped and came here!" she yelled back, to be heard above the sounds of the battle.

"Dammit! ...but why the hell did you come!?" he asked her again.

"It wasn't Gilbert! He actually killed the assassin that came for me, it was the one-armed thug
from Rovias! Where's your mier!?" she asked, only realizing now that the animal wasn't there.

Hobenrûd made a sign with his hand, pointing somewhere behind him, "I don't know! I fell back
there and...I guess they got him. Will you...!" a huge boulder fell on a tall building beside then,
and rubble started to fall. The soldiers tried to protect themselves as they could, but a particularly
large chunk of rock fell on one of them's head.

"Helki! ...dung!" he uttered a silent prayer for the dead man, "I'll attack that tower over there,
will you help me, Priss!?" he asked her, pointing to the tower, "It's heavily guarded, so maybe
that's where Filafannel is hiding at...we won't be able to win this with Filafannel helping them!"

Marin nodded, and turned her mier in the tower's direction.

She charged ahead of the infantry while the archers' arrows flew above her head. She trampled
the fearful soldiers that tried to defend the tower, and struck them down with her blade, they
didn't resist for long and soon they were fleeing in panic. Hobenrûd's band of swordsmen got
there a while later, to finish with those too courageous or foolish to escape.
Another group of enemies appeared from behind the nearby burning homes and ambushed
Marin, they had pikemen, and trying to keep away from them, Marin fell from the mier, and the
assailants, with a scream of bloodlust, went after the woman that was crawling away, having lost
her sword.

The sky above them flashed, as another magical vortex pushed a dragon to the ground nearby, a
man with spear stood there, petrified, looking at the sky, as the huge beast fell to the ground
throwing dust and rocks to the air.

Amidst the confusion, the deafening sound, the screams and the dust, Marin tried to get up and
run away, but she wasn't sure which direction she should go to. Metal clangs and screams of pain
could be heard, until the dust finally subsided.

Hobenrûd was in the middle of six corpses, the others must've fled, his sword was reddened
again with fresh blood, he was breathing heavily, and was furiously rubbing his with his right
arm. Marin ran back and took her sword from the ground, looking at him.

He sheathed his sword, opened the eyes and went to her, to hold her shoulders, "Blood of Kiros!
Are you okay? Did they...are you okay? You're not hurt, are you?" he hugged her, but quickly
stepped back and unsheathed his sword, "I thought...thank Sallund you're alright," and then to the
swordsmen that followed him before, "Go up the tower and see if you find the wizard!"

Marin noticed the clothing of his left leg was shredded, and red, "Your leg," she said, pointing to
it.

"It's nothing, I'm not even feeling it. You sure you're okay?" he smiled then, "We'll need a good
bath after this one...you said Gilbert came here?"

Marin and Hobenrud looked at each other in an awkward silence. It was as if something had
gone wrong--or was it?

Chapter 36
"High may have been the price of victory, but the low price of defeat was one we could not pay."
--Last sentence of "The Battle of Mount Haigan" play

The magical vortexes had stopped for some time now, the only lights in the sky were the
dragon's breath of fire. The wizard must've been inside the tower. The battle was won. Hobenrûd
was still holding her shoulders, Marin realized. Was it sweat or tears below his eyes?

The soldiers that went up the tower left it now, they were carrying a woman, three peasants, and
four unarmed prisoners walked with them.

"The wizard wasn't...!" a soldier yelled, while running to Marin's position.

"Anita!" Marin yelled, and went to see her friend, "What happened to you?"
"Just...my knee. They took me as prisoner...after I fell and...ungh..." she was in pain, that was
obvious, and her knee looked quite bad.

"Take her to a physician!" Marin ordered the soldiers, "And take care with that knee. Free the
prisoners, but ask if they want to join us. Let the peasants go," the soldiers made a salute and
went to look for a medic in the back of the front.

"I can't believe it," came the surprised voice of Hobenrûd, from behind her, a man, wearing a
black hood was limping toward them, "Gilbert! What the hell are you doing!?"

"I did what I told you to do. The wizard is dead. I hope not too late," he said, not even looking at
Marin.

"Then thanks for your help, sir Gilbert. This battle could not have been won without you," Marin
tried to compliment him, but he didn't answer. Still looking at Hobenrûd, he told him:

"I don't want to be a larger burden to this movement. I did what I could when I was useful, now I
will leave and try to find something better to do in the meantime." Hobenrûd tried to protest but
was cut short, "They must be needing professors of military strategy in Sardina. Goodbye, old
friend, if your stupidity doesn't kill you too soon, we might meet again," and chuckled.

Hobenrûd smiled wanly as Gilbert left, chaos visibly swirling within him, and as the chaos of the
battle subsided, the people assembled around them saw Marin collapse onto a kneeling position
before the strategist. "I...I uh, I am sorry. I--I don't know more I can say, but--I just don't want to
bear the thought of your leaving--.... what I mean to say, is...uh, just please--give us one more
chance. Will..will you? For my sake? Please?"

Gilbert stopped in his tracks as he heard those words, and looked at Marin with new eyes. For a
split second, his eyes flared with renewed hope. But then, he realized the true face of the
situation, and drooping his head, he passed through the crowd of soldiers which had formed
around them, not even turning around to face her as the limping man said, "I... Sorry." Another
delayed pause later, he stopped for a moment to say, "Oh, and your highness. By what I could
see of your abilities, in the time I knew you...I believe you'll be a reasonable political asset to this
kingdom." And this was the best compliment he could muster.

Marin remained on the ground even after the others had dispersed, deep in thought and remorse.
As the sun set across the horizon under the darkening gloom, Hobenrûd finally helped the
princess to her feet, and together they returned to their camp. Marin had a single glistening tear
on her cheeks. With Gilbert gone, it seemed as if... a chunk of herself, however small, had also
gone.

"I... understand what you're thinking, Priss, but it's time," noted Hobenrûd along the way.

"Are you... all right?" A concerned Marin appeared inside the makeshift hospital that had been
established earlier that day.
Anita was sitting, on the ground, with her back against a nearby wall, the left leg of her pants
was torn, and her leg was maintained immobile by a weird wooden contraption and bandages, "It
itches," was her answer.

Marin smiled, at least it wasn't anything serious. The medic told her Anita would be walking
perfectly fine in three weeks or less, but she couldn't move her leg much, or the healing could be
imperfect. So Anita, together with many of the wounded, would have to be carried in carts to
Bahemet, for the final assault to the king's castle.

The king's army was in disarray, badly positioned, and the Freedom Army wanted to use that
opportunity to end this war. The only forces defending the walled city of Bahemet would be
Sardinians, Inquisitors, and the royal guard itself. The three formed the elite military forces of
Ruivoca, and were all incredibly difficult obstacles to surpass.

But the Freedom Army had many willing men and women, many dragons had survived the
recent battle, and if they won, the forces loyal to the king would be no more. They were prepared
to throw it all in a last strike.

"Let me see how yer doin' now, lass," Marin heard a familiar voice from her left side, Drindell
went to where Anita was sitting and checked her knee, prodded it around, asked if she felt any
pain, smiled, told her there was nothing to worry about, and went to the next wounded, carrying
his bag of assorted ingredients, but not before telling Marin:

"Ye look awful lass. Let Anita rest and go wash yerself or sumthing."

Drindell had restocked his supply of magical ingredients from Filafannel's stash. He was fixing
people's armour and healing the ones that had more serious wounds. He couldn't use it all up now
though, he had to keep some for Bahemet.

Bahemet.

Bahemet was the name in all their minds. Everything was centred in Bahemet. The victory or the
defeat of revolution would be decided in Bahemet. The future of every single living soul in
Ruivoca depended on what happened in Bahemet. The lives of Marin, Hobenrûd, Anita,
Drindell...they all could end in Bahemet. There was nothing but Bahemet to think about.

Bahemet, Bahemet.

Bahemet was the name echoing throughout the minds of all the battered victorious soldiers of the
Freedom Army.

edit Chapter 37
"Under the bright and luminous dark,/ secrets known by all are whispered/ in loud voice."
--La Serenatina
Two nights later, there was a party, and all the living soldiers that weren't too wounded to come
by, came by. All except for Hobenrûd and Marin, that decided to stay in the temporary
headquarters, in the third floor of the local hall of justice. Well, Marin decided to stay, and
Hobenrûd, that wanted to speak with her, decided to "keep her guarded".

Marin went to the balcony, to look at the party in the distance.

"You...didn't tell him," Hobenrûd's voice came from behind her, he was standing in the doorway,
with his shoulder against it.

"What?" she asked, confused, turning around to face him, with her hands still on the balcony's
short stone walls.

"Gilbert. You didn't tell him you're not the king's daughter," he explained, eyes on the sky.

"I...didn't want to...I guess I don't want anyone to know that now," she answered to the floor.

"Why?" Hobenrûd asked a tad too loudly, and anxiously. He regained his composure, and tried
again, "Why? I mean...that's a good thing."

Marin rose her left hand to her face and scratched her cheek, "I...I don't really want to have them
all knowing...I think...I think it will be easier this way. Without them knowing I'm Rikerd's
daughter...I...well, I, I don't... want things to change too fast."

Hobenrûd nodded, "I...guess I understand," he left the doorway and leaned against the short wall
of the balcony, beside Marin.

"I hope Gilbert is okay though, I hope...he didn't leave because of me," Marin said, turning
around to look at the lights of the party that was happening in the central plaza.

Hobenrûd patted her arm, lightly, "Don't worry, it wasn't your fault. He left because he actually
considered assassinating that wizard. I think he feel remorse...besides, he's a guy with a limp, he
can't do much more than he already did. I guess he wants to end the fight while he's winning,"
Hobenrûd said, smiling. He meant that as a joke, but Marin was still serious.

"Do you...", she hesitated, thinking of a good wording for her question, "do you think we really
have a chance of winning? At Bahemet, I mean. It's the king's last stand, he'll give everything he
has, from the Sardinians to the Inquisitors...do you think...I mean, honestly, do you really think
we have a chance?" she said, he could tell she was anxious about it, and unsure, he thought of
comforting her, but realized it was better to just tell the truth.

"I'm not sure...sometimes I think we can do it. We have many soldiers, many
dragons...but...sometimes I just...don't know," he told her, and it was true. He was not sure if they
could do it, before the other battles he just knew they would manage, but now...the odds were too
high, a quick battle was the only way, but the losses would be huge, and there was no guarantee
that they would win in the end.
Deep inside him, he thought that Gilbert had left because he thought they would fail in Bahemet,
he thought that Gilbert had a pretty good idea of what would happen. And it was not good.

He noticed that she had her head lowered, with her chin pressed on her crossed arms, looking
down. "But...don't worry..." he stopped, he didn't sound very sure of himself. Changing his
inflexion, and forcing a smile, he tried again, "We'll manage it somehow. The Gods won't let us
fail now that we got until here, don't you think? Besides...I am fighting on our side, remember?"

She smiled, and looked at him; he was smirking. Hobenrûd took one of her hands, the smirk
fading, "You should tell them. They need all morale they can get."

Her hand went stiff, and she pulled her back. She marched out of the balcony and inside the
building, saying she would think about it. Hobenrûd stayed behind, leaning on the wall, looking
at the fires of the party, and hearing the sounds of the party. He heard steps behind him, and
turned his head.

"You need to give her time, I only told her yesterday," said Queen Eljabé. Hobenrûd quickly
turned around and knelt:

"Your majesty," he said, and only stood when she told him to do so.

"I...know, your majesty, but...", she interrupted him, raising her finger.

"Call me Eljabé. I won't be Queen for long, and...frankly, these formalities bore me," she told
him, smiling softly, "But that is a royal secret of course."

Hobenrûd smiled too, but only for a second, "Yes...Eljabé, I understand what you mean, but your
daughter, she will be the one that shall lead us in the new era after the king...she must bear the
pressures that come with her birthright. Believe me, I would want nothing but to leave her out of
this, to keep her safe... but that was not what the Gods had in mind."

The queen sighed, "Yes, my child has grown more in the time she has spent with you than she
did during all her earlier years. I fear that was partly my fault... Still, I know you want her best, I
know you'll protect her," she told him, nostalgically.

"Yes, your daughter is a legitimate heir to the throne, which will squash any bids that the
Lukavians may make, she also seems to be able as a leader, and I'm sure she will be good to the
people of this kingdom. I want to help her reach the throne," Hobenrûd said, explaining to the
queen the reasons her daughter was the best ruler they could have.

"I was not talking about that," she told him, still smiling softly, "I meant that you want her best
as much as I do, maybe more. I know you'll protect her, not because she'll be a good queen,
which I'm sure she will, but because I know you care about her. But don't worry, she will tell
them, when she feels it is the time," and with those words, the queen departed, leaving Hobenrûd
alone in the balcony, with his backs leaning on the low wall, looking at the moon.
edit Chapter 38
"People say that you can feel that something terrible will happen in a given day.That there is a
strange feeling of dread in the air. That is a lie. The most terrible of days start quite happily, and
you cannot help it but to feel that it will turn out to be even better."
--Lord Gortinghan

Anita was in one of the carts that were taking the wounded soldiers to Bahemet, but she wasn't
being carried, the wound did indeed heal before the end of the week, but she felt sorry for the
people she shared the medical quarters with, and decided to drive one of the carriages. Marin and
Hobenrûd also were driving theirs, but Anita couldn't see either of them.

"How much time'll it take 'till Bahemet, Ani? I've been in this carriage for days!" asked Gargenil,
a blonde, usually tanned guy(not so much since he was wounded). The others had told her he
always stopped whatever he was doing to stay one hour under the sun, they had told her he did
that during the liberation of Pulti. But since he wasn't around at the time (he left to stay under the
sun for the first time in days), she guessed it was a lie.

"Not much, we should reach a good place to camp in a few minutes, then we'll rest for a day or
two and start the assault," she answered, looking at both sides; most of the "wounded" were
already healed, but thought that the idea of getting a free ride instead of marching was a great
one.

"Dung! At this rate, the king'll already've regrouped his forces by the time we get there," Gangee
was one of them. He came from a poor village on the countryside, very far from the great
cultivated fields they could see at both sides of the road. Corn, wheat, lettuce and beetroot. The
fiefs of Bahemet were currently empty, as all peasants either escaped somewhere very far away
or went to the capital for refuge.

It was an ominous silence, only broken by the occasional chirping of birds.

"So...Ani, they let girls fight in Lukavia, eh?" Bingabu asked.

"What are you talking about, Bing? We have chicks in our army... I know ten already," Gargenil
told him, rolling his eyes.

"Yeah, but we didn't have them in the Ruivocan army. They only started letting the women to
fight alongside us after they pressured the higher ups, with Marin being our leader and all," said
Bingabu, Gangee, knowingly.

Bingabu suddenly snickered, as if he just remembered a joke, "I heard she kick Hoben's arse in a
fight," he told the others.

Anita cut in, "I heard she cheated."

Bingabu shrugged it off, "But she still kicked his arse."


Anita snickered, "Can't argue with that."

"Of course you can't, but you should pay attention to the road, we're going left, one of the local
lord's camp house will probably be perfect to house the troops without the hassle of making a
camp," came Marin's voice from Anita's right side, she was driving one of the wooden carts, a
clearly emptier one than Anita, they didn't seem to want her to carry much of a burden.

"Your highness!" most of the soldiers in Anita's cart yelled, quite shocked.

"Now, now, don't you just call me 'your highness' when I'm nearby. Either you call me that all
the time, or you don't, understood?" the soldiers hesitated for a moment, looking one at the other.

"Yes, y...I mean...", they started in unison, but then, some hesitated, some said Marin, and some
said your highness; some just kept silent.

"Why bother? We're just taking the power from a tyrant to give to the next...and his daughter no
less," said one of the less shy of the soldiers Anita carried. The ominous silence came back, and
it didn't go away, until they reached a large rural home, almost a small palace, abandoned, in the
middle of the fields, on top of a small hill.

"He only joined us after the end of the siege, after he get to know you, he will..." Anita started
saying.

"Don't worry, I'm more concerned of what'll happen if the king finds out we're here. We would
have to hurry the attack. I hope they can't see us from there," the princess answered, rubbing her
forehead, "Where is my mother?" she asked, biting her lower lip.

Anita shrugged, and left the house. She found the man that had insulted Marin near the vines in
the mansion's yard, plucking grapes, "Bastard. She isn't like the king at all."

"Yeah, that's what they all say, one after the other. But were we really so better off under Rikerd?
And Lukavia...are you guys so better without a king like ours?" he asked.

"Well, there was a recent war, you wouldn't expect us from recover so easily...and I really can't
say if Rikerd was much better. But still, she cares about you, unlike the king, so yes, she will be
much better, you shouldn't treat her like that just because she's too soft to behead you," she told
him, firmly.

"Of course. But she will still have absolute power over everyone of us, and she will still have to
abide to the power of the lords, never too freedom-loving anyway. The monarchical system of
government is inherently corrupt. And even if she really does care about us...how much will it
last? My bet is until the first time she has to choose between keeping the throne and helping the
people," he said, in a completely serious tone, but Anita couldn't yet believe he wasn't kidding.

Seeing that she wouldn't answer, the soldier continued speaking, "What we need is a way of
limiting her power, and the lord's, establishing unbreakable rights of the powerless people. Not
another monarchy. A kind tyranny is still tyranny...I will fight for her because I agree she's better
than the king. But if we win, I'll fight against her, until I either die or am heard," he finished.

"You're wrong," was Anita's quick answer. The man snickered, and she left.

"I suppose we can't really be choosy on who can help us," Anita thought, surprised by the
rudeness of that man.

Meanwhile, Marin found her mother in one of the rooms of the mansion, or rather, her mother
found her, while she checked one of the bedrooms.

"So...are you alright?" her mother was an old lady already, and it probably wasn't good for her to
travel so much.

"Oh, yes sweetie. But you shouldn't worry about that. These old bones of mine lived enough
already...I think you should focus on bringing as many of those men and women back alive..."
her smile faded, "They can see the capital from the roof, and it's an astounding sight, many
soldiers...their morale is down, they think the king will manage to obtain reinforcements. They
need your leadership," she said, with a nod.

Marin didn't think she was ready for it, but still, she climbed the stairs to the roof of palace,
where some people watched the capital at a distance, amazed. And she did too. The tall stone
walls of the city, circumscribed by the moat, looked unbreakable; there were great towers at
regular intervals, and there was a line of archers stretching around the entire wall.

The large and heavy wooden gates could open at any moment, and an ocean of troops could spill
out of it in a few seconds. It was the last obstacle to an end to the war, but it still seemed
insurmountable. And there was no chance for them to have noticed their forces gathering outside
the city. Still, Marin steeled herself and, looking at the depressed faces of the people that would
fight the next day, she went to border of the roof, and called those in the courtyard to hear her.

When a sufficient crowd gathered, she started, "People of Ruivoca! Both those that have long
resisted the oppression of the king and those that only recently joined us! You may think this is a
dark day for us! But, I am afraid you are wrong at that! This is a day to rejoice, for this is the last
day of the king's reign!" her eyes glanced around; not everyone was paying attention.

"It was a long journey until here! But by tomorrow, at this time, we will be in the capital, and I
will be atop a tower, talking to you again! For tomorrow, we will have won this war, and by after
tomorrow, you will be with your families as a new age will begin in Ruivoca!" some more eyes
were focused on her.

"I will not lie to you all and say it will be easy, but we have won over many opponents to give up
now! Our swords are sharp and the king is fated to fall! And I, Marin of Ruivoca, daughter of
Rikerd of Ruivoca, and heir to the throne, will fight, and if needed, die! Alongside you!" all eyes
were on her, but there was no response.
"Yes! The king has lied, and at many times! He did not kill me when I was a baby after the coup.
I did not know that previously, but my mother, Eljabé of Ruivoca, has come to our side too, and
told me all. And that is the proof that the king has no loyalty from anyone anymore! He is
crumbling, and the enemy's morale is low! The Sardinians may have armours made of steel, but
we have a will made of steel, and we shall not accept defeat! Today is the last day of a dark age
in our past, and a new chapter in history books to come!" after she finished the speech, there was
a beckoning silence, before all erupted into cheers.

Marin smiled, and hoped she had the strength to turn her words into reality.

edit Chapter 39
"My enemies see the battlefield and they scream and cry. I do not understand why. Only through
battle can true victory be reached, and only through true victory can one obtain true honour."
--King Ük, the red

It was the morning of the day after the speech, and most men and women of the Freedom Army
had already woken up. At least half of them were already wearing any armour they had. One
third was standing on the field, eager to end the war once and for all. The ones that brought their
families with them, decided to stay what could be the last hours of their lives with their
husbands, wives and children.

Young men and women, anxious to get themselves a better future, were anxiously practising
their swordplay, their aim, their spears, their riding, making sure they were sharp enough for
what would be the greatest battle of our times. Hobenrûd, Marin, Anita, Drindell, and the
lieutenants from various townships, hamlets and villages from all over Ruivoca were on the front
of the troops, checking them, and waiting for the right time. They wouldn't start the assault until
noon, since the sun would be behind their backs the whole afternoon.

History books report that there were at least one hundred thousand people in the fields around
Bahemet that day. Sixty thousand of those belonged to allies of the Freedom army, which had a
clear majority. But the enemy was better trained, better equipped, better paid. And when the sun
reached its highest point in the sky, it all started.

The troops of the freedom army advanced through the fields of wheat and corn around the city,
in less than an hour the sun would be at their backs, which would make it impossible for archers
to aim. While they advanced, with the front troops holding their shields over their heads, the
three trebuchets they had built for the last siege were finishing being unpacked and mounted.

Orders were transmitted to the lieutenants by mounted messengers, and the order was to advance
slowly, under the protection of the corn fields.

But the enemy was prepared for that.


Sardinian crossbowmen poured a special highly flammable oil on their arrows and put fire on it,
then they shot them at the fields. The fire quickly spread, and there was a momentary disarray of
the Freedom Army troops, as they fled the fire. The battle was barely starting.

"Dammit!" Hobenrûd cursed, and did his best to rally the fleeing soldiers, "Can you put out the
fire somehow!?" he asked Drindell and Anita, loud enough to be heard above the ensuing chaos.
But their "of course" was barely heard, as arrows started raining over the running soldiers, fired
by longbowmen on top of the city walls, and in less than an hour, the assault seemed lost.

It wasn't. Anita made two swift vertical flap with her great fan, and small twisters appeared out
of thin air, which succeeded in creating a cloud of dust, putting out the fire, and plucking the
corn out of the ground. Atop the walls, the commander of the defenses, Ruann Rovias, cursed.
They couldn't see anything past the dust cloud.

The first thing they saw were three big boulders, two flew over them and destroyed buildings in
the city, one hit a nearby tower, and debris fell everywhere. Far from there, a person around a
trebuchet asked another if they hit the city, "I dunno, I can't see anything! How the hell can we
aim if we can't see them!?"

The second thing the defenders of the city saw was a golem seemingly made of mud, rocks and
pieces of plants carrying a woman in a purple outfit, the woman was holding a golden rod. The
golem wasn't much more than a blob with legs, but it was much faster than you would expect a
golem to be (later it was discovered that it was a personal spell discovered by Drindell, the
arcane), it ran quickly through the fields, zigzagging. The crossbowman tried to hit the woman
on top of it, but were unsuccessful. She, on her part, pointed the rod at them, and lightning bolts
were shot off its tip.

The third thing the defenders of the wall saw, when the dust cloud finally subsided, were
thousands of men and women charging towards Bahemet, accompanied by dozens of siege
machines. Ruann Rovias cursed again and ordered the gates to be opened, so that the infantry
could meet the attackers in the ground, since it was hard for the crossbowmen to aim, as the sun
was on their eyes. Now it had really began.

The gates fell down, over the moat, making a bridge. A bridge that vibrated as more and more as
thousands ran over it. The charge of the freedom army became mired down as the steel-plated
Sardinians and the white-armoured inquisitors grouped in front of the gates, presenting a
formidable sight. Seeing that the soldiers were having doubts, Marin rose her sword, and then
slowly lowered it, until it pointed directly at the city. It was the sign to charge, and she was the
first to do so.

Just then, there was turmoil in the ranks of the defenders, Marin rose her sword, and kept her
risen. It was the sign to stop, something was afoot. After some time, the turmoil continued, and
since it seemed as if it wasn't ending anytime soon, Marin ordered the continuation of the assault,
no matter the cause. After a long charge, the two armies met, and the archers on the wall could
not help any more.
The cause, the Freedom army discovered soon, as the Sardinians and some Inquisitors retreated
back into the city, was that hundreds, maybe thousands, of inquisitors started fighting against the
defenders, quickly taking control of the gates and cutting the chains, making it impossible for
them to be closed, and yelling "The king is a sinner! We fight for Sallund!"

It was a movement of rebel inquisitors, whose leader was the captain of the inquisitor ship that
was excommunicated after fighting the Sardinians. The movement was non-violent until that
very moment, but now, the inquisitors realized that their chance to end the despair brought upon
Ruivoca by the wrath of Sallund was now, as these attackers came, probably guided by the Gods
themselves to this very moment.

The confusion was quickly sorted out and the even greater army of rebels prepared to invade the
city. A blonde inquisitor in full white plate armour, with a shield decorated with the symbol of
the Holy Order, rose his sword the skies, and made a silent prayer, as he saw Hobenrûd. Seeing
that, Hobenrûd remembered and nodded, rose his own sword, as did Marin and the other
lieutenants, and ordered the final charge.

The attackers poured through the city streets, from the narrow paved ones between houses to the
great arboured main avenues near the central market. The Sardinians were far too outnumbered
and overwhelmed, but they had enough technology and tactics to resist fiercely against the
invaders. And resist they did.

Hobenrûd led a division of soldiers to look for the palace of the capital, where the king was
probably taking refuge. The many pikemen tried to block the streets, but were easily pincered
and disposed of. Only thirty of the two hundred men and women following Hobenrûd died that
day, as they navigated the streets of the city, while entire three-floored buildings few down,
victim of catapult projectiles.

As they closed on a plaza, they were ambushed by Sardinians that were hidden in a dead-end
street, to their right. Almost all the riders of their group, including Hobenrûd, quickly fell to the
ground as their miers were incapacitated by the enemy polearms. Still, they stood and took
advantage of the deficient short-range capabilities of the Sardinian pickaxe to strike. But enemy
riders, coming from the transversal streets, forced them to fall back to the central markets of the
city, where most attackers converged.

Seeing their predicament, Marin led a band of mier-riders in a charge against the pursuers. In the
centre of the plaza, Drindell made entire buildings fall down on the defending troops, while
Anita shot even more lightning bolts on the crossbowmen that stood on top of the constructions.
Hobenrûd glanced at Marin one last time before ordering his division to defend three battering
rams that were coming from the southern street.

The slow-moving covered wagons, about ten men inside, and a tree trunk with a piece of iron at
the tip. They were used to break down gates, and those ones were going to break the gate to the
king's castle. Hobenrûd's division fended off anyone trying to destroy those fundamental pieces
of machinery. They managed to reach the outer gates of the castle with two rams intact, as a
building, toppled by a trebuchet boulder, had crushed one of them.
Marin, on her mier, reached them while the gate was being rammed down. "Is everything going
well? Do you need more people!?" she asked loudly.

"Princess!? Yeah! We need more people! They must have lots of soldiers defending the castle!"
he yelled back, nodding.

"I will bring more people here, then! You hold out!" she said, pulling the reins of her mier to the
left, and riding back to the city's centre. Before five minutes had passed, she almost fell out of
the mier, as she violently shook, having been hit by something. Her mier was scared and started
to run away, and she barely managed to take her feet off the harness and jump off the crazed
beast.

A crossbow bolt had hit her, having been fired by a crossbowman that seconds later was pushed
out of a rooftop by one of the Freedom Army soldiers, falling to his death. Hobenrûd ran to
where she lay on the ground, the bolt half-embedded on her abdomen, but far from any lethal
spot, Hobenrûd thought, and hoped. Thanks to her armour, the damage seemed to not be too
serious, but blood could be seen on her side.

"Dammit! Dammit!" he cursed loudly. He didn't want to touch her, for he could make matters
worse. "Not now! Marin? Marin...?" she groaned in response "Marin, you can't do that now!
Marin, remember you told everyone you would make a speech once we won? Well, we're
winning, you have to keep your end of the deal," but her eyes were unfocused.

He looked around, but there was no rider in sight, mentally cursing, he unsnapped one of the
pads of his leg, rose her head a bit from the ground and put the pad under it to support her head.
He tried again, holding head, "Marin...you'll be all right, someone is bound to reach us soon."

And as he said that, her eyes focused on him, still a bit closed, "Hoben..."

He was exultant, he thanked the Gods and kissed her forehead. "Hoben..." she continued, "They
need you...in the castle, call some other ...ungh...person to get me to a medic,"

"Marin... I got a hint for you, keep your mind focused. We can't lose now."

Chapter 40
"I do not understand civilization. In the desert, when we are thirsty, and our enemies hold the
oasis, we throw spears and scream, and one side usually gives up after the first death. Our
betters, the white men of civilization fight for water they need not, and only give up when they
are all dead."
--Chieftain Gagembe M'handi

Most soldiers of the Freedom Army were still in the city and, led by Drindell and Anita, were
hunting every resistance soldier that hadn't yet gone to the castle. And in the castle, Hobenrûd
was leading an army of about ten thousand people against what was left of the Sardinians.
The keep of the castle was atop a hill, and the Freedom Army was on lower ground. The
Sardinian crossbows incessantly fired bolts at the attackers that tried to march up the elevated
ground. Hobenrûd ordered a shield wall to be made, and that every rider to dismount and keep
behind the shield wall. The attackers' infantry and cavalry marched slowly up the hill, while their
archers climbed the nearby towers and shot the enemy from even higher ground. Sporadic bursts
of unnatural lightning struck the turret crenellations, electrocuting many a royalist archer and
forcing them to take cover in their terror.

The Sardinians couldn't kill enough members of the Freedom army to make them stop, and were
themselves being slowly killed by the ever-increasing number of revolutionary archers on the
towers. It was not long until the bulk of the attackers reached the wooden gates of the keep.

Seeing that the Sardinians could resist for a long time, Hobenrûd decided to lead twenty of his
most trusted into the keep, to kill the king, to end it once and for all. Running through the halls,
he asked his companions, "Why isn't he helping the Sardinians!? I thought he was a wizard!"

"Perhaps he escaped?" was the answer. Nobody answered. The Gods couldn't have allowed such
a injustice to happen. The king was inside the keep, probably hiding, cowardly and scared. And
on this day, Hobenrûd would make him pay. He was thinking of Marin. If she didn't survive... he
would kill the king, and then find a way to resurrect him, just so that he would be able to kill him
again and again...

They met fierce opposition, and before long, five of them were dead. Sardinians would block the
hallways, they would be ambushed from the rooms, but they wouldn't stop. Much was at stake.
They ran, their breath faltering, slashing, gutting, thrusting and parrying against all that came
upon them. Until they met a group of crossbowmen blocking a corridor, led by the commander
of the defence forces, a red-haired man called Ruann Rovias.

They quickly fell back behind as the crossbow bolts zoomed through the air. "Okay, that's it,
your little play-fight went on far enough. You can stay behind that wall until your friends lose
down there, and my friends come up here and arrest you, or you can give up right now, both of
which will make you be accused of high treason, executed and dismembered. Or you can take the
third option and come running and screaming toward me, until my friends here put you on a
stick. Many times," he said, in a mocking tone.

Hobenrûd couldn't believe it. He couldn't have come all the way to that keep to face an
impassable barrier. "Why are the Sardinians helping the king anyway!? Ruivoca is a poor
country compared to yours. The king can offer you nothing," Hobenrûd asked the question that
bothered him for long.

A chuckle came from the corridor, "Okay, since we know each other for so long, I will let you in
a secret. We found land, much land, to the west. Beyond the sea. Maybe more land than all that
is currently known. An entire continent, maybe two. And we believe me when I say it is laden
with gold, and silver, precious stones and metals. And entire continent, maybe two, and it is ripe
to be taken. By us. But Sardina is an archipelago, we don't have nearly enough land and wood to
build as many shipyards as we want in order to be the first to take the land. We need more. So
we decided to take some land from the Continent. And we don't really enjoy warring barbarian
countries that can actually fight back. Instead, we support your barbarian kings and queens and
princes. They let us buy their land in exchange. Everybody wins. Especially we."

"That is your reason? You help the king to kill our people and our hopes for wealth? You are the
barbarians, not us, not the Sumdonians. And you think you are part of a superior people. I dearly
hope that not all Sardinians are like that, because I fully intend to rid them of you," because it
was your fault Marin is dead, Hobenrûd was going to say. But he chastised himself. She wasn't
dead. She couldn't be.

Hobenrûd told one of his companions to give him his shield, then he sheathed his sword, and
holding one shield in each hand, told the others, "When I go for the second time, charge after
me."

The others were confused as Hobenrûd ran out of his refuge, holding the shields to defend most
of his body, then he came back into cover, as the crossbowmen shot, missing him completely,
and before they could reload, he ran toward them as fast as he could, with the shields defending
his body. Before the charging men could reach the Sardinians, some of the crossbowmen
managed to shoot another volley, but most bolts were deflected by the round shields, except for
one, that scratched Hobenrûd's arm.

He slammed onto a group of crossbowmen, taking them to the ground, then he dropped the
shields, unsheathed his sword, and attacked Rovias as strong as he could. The red-haired man
parried his attack and held his sword with the half-moon shaped tip of his sword. Then he
punched Hobenrûd's face, before he could escape the lock.

"Don't you ever learn? I heard you are the best you barbarians can offer, I see I was not mistaken
on your abilities," the other man taunted, as Hobenrûd chased him into a nearby room which
appeared to be an armory, so full was it of various weapons, it was a dead-end hallway. But
Rovias didn't seem to lose his confidence. Hobenrûd didn't attack, he just waited, gripping his
flamberge tightly. Rovias moved around, hopping on his feet.

This continued for some time, as both men searched for a weakness in each other's defence. After
some time, Rovias made a move, bringing his blade to the left. Hobenrûd prepared to parry, but
it was a feign, and only barely did he avoid being struck down. The other man smiled, and
danced around more quickly. He slashed vertically, but Hobenrûd was prepared and avoided it.

Hobenrûd tossed his sword away and chose a different weapon from the rack on the wall,
looking back at Rovias with a hint of a smile. Not many have even seen a weapon like this, much
less had practice confronting it. It was a nine-part chain, and he twirled it around him with
incredible ease, the metal taking a path of its own that only one skilled in using it could predict.

Rovias shook himself out of his surprise, and lunged at him with his sword. To his amazement
the chain circled around the blade and knocked it sideways, then slithered back to Hobenrûd
before lashing out again. A massive rip appeared in Rovias's shoulder, revealing bleeding skin
underneath as the man stumbled back.
But only for a moment. Then he charged again, this time armed with a spear. The chain
constricted flawlessly on its shaft, pulling it out of Rovias's hands. Hobenrûd continued spinning
the chain about in intricate patterns, and now it had a spear jumbled up along with it and whirling
about at an incredible velocity. Hurriedly, Rovias pulled a gigantic mace off the wall and swiped
it horizontally, barely missing Hobenrûd's head but smashing into someone else. One of
Hobenrûd's footmen toppled backward like a thrown dice, his chest and lungs collapsed, as
several others approached and encircled Rovias, jabbing and slashing with their weaponry.

Hobenrûd dodged another blow from the massive mace and then cartwheeled sideways to avoid
yet another hit as he lashed out his chain. When he had regained his footing he saw Rovias finish
his own cartwheel, landing right beside him and having dodged a three-pronged attack; yet
another footman was doomed, a pilum's shaft protruding from his solar plexus. Hobenrûd
jumped as a scimitar flashed beneath him, then twirled the chain to catch the returning scimitar
and knock it away. The second time he struck out with the chain, the weapon had wrapped
around a trident's shaft, while Rovias grinned, suspended high above him and temporarily
balancing on the pole.

He struck back down, forcing Hobenrûd to perform a sideways spin. The chain latched around
Rovias's ankle and sent him crashing into another wall, another rack. Hobenrûd was about to
strike out again when he found two bladed darts suddenly embedded into a footman's skull.
Infuriated, he lashed about wildly, his chain hitting nothing; Rovias meanwhile had leapt on top
of four converging weapons and kicked away another soldier, continuing his martial dance with
perfection as he circled around another footman to break his back with a three-ball flail while
simultaneously avoiding all hits.

Hobenrûd's chain bounced off a wall and brushed Rovias's knee, instantly drawing blood, even
as its owner spun off the ground to avoid Rovias's spiked flail. He then dodged several javelin
jabs in quick succession, before whipping his chain about his adversary's neck. A single pull, and
Rovias was sent crashing into the ground, bleeding his entire neck over, the flail clashing into
several more unused weapons. Rovias never got the chance to get back up as a footman quickly
took the opportunity to press his boot on the fallen warrior's chest, pinning him down.

"It's over, you filth," Hobenrûd spat.

edit Chapter 41
"Great evils exist in this world, but they are neither inhuman, nor all-powerful. The greatest of
evils are those that reside in the human heart."
--Frenciano Rochell, Gran-mayor of Ginalía

But Hobenrûd had no time to feel glee or remorse; they rushed to the king's chamber, facing
minimal opposition along the way. The room was big, but it had little furniture. This room was
only supposed to be used by the king in case of assault, so most of his books and things were still
in the palace. But there was no one in the room. The king had escaped.
"NO!" yelled Hobenrûd, punching the wall, his head hanged down. The king was not here. He
and his Sardinian allies could come back and retake the throne after the war was over. It was all
lost. Then, a brown-haired soldier beside him pointed to a metal ladder that went up to the roof,
saying that the king could be there. And Hobenrûd, desperate, did not think twice before
climbing.

From the roof, he could see the whole battle. The fields and buildings were burning from dragon-
fire; many, many people, appearing no larger than ants, were fighting and killing each other;
many buildings were reduced to rubble. There was smoke and dust everywhere, and some
twisters carried away belligerents with windy fervor. Marin was probably down there. Hobenrûd
shook his head and refocused his thoughts.

On the roof, there was a big metallic contraption. It was very strange, with pointy parts and
round parts and reflective parts and parts that don't make geometric sense and a small transparent
part with shimmering threads coming out of it. It was like nothing Hobenrûd had ever seen
before. But he was forced out of his amazement as one of his companions flew high to the sky
and came crashing down, screaming. All in less than two seconds. The king was there.

Two other footmen flew helplessly in opposite directions as a man with a strange appearance
appeared from behind the contraption, dressed in brown garb, wearing painted wooden armour,
half of his face hidden behind a red wooden mask and the other half behind a mask of tattoos.
One of his hands was enclosed in a heavy metal glove and carrying a sceptre, while his right arm
ended with what seemed to be an eerie blue light.

The king made a movement with his hand in the direction of another one of the soldiers, whose
arms pulled themselves off, and those arms smashed the face of two others. Hobenrûd couldn't
do anything, so surprised was he by the power of this sorcery. Dread filled his mind as the king's
hand turned on Hobenrûd's direction. Nothing happened. He did more movements, with both
hands, and still nothing happened. The visible half of his face smiled, "You are the one. Good. I
won't need to go down there to take it. This will make matters easier."

"I don't see how your being unable to use magic will make anything easier for you," Hobenrûd
snarled.

The king smiled menacingly, then waved his scepter. Suddenly there were screams of terror from
the other footmen as they sank into pools of quicksand and could not get out. Only it wasn't
quicksand; it was stone. They were being trapped... in stone?!?

Hobenrûd was alone.

"Give up! Your magic is of no use against me! I will have mercy on your life if you give up!"
Hobenrûd shouted, but even to him, it sounded false.

"I don't need my magic," the king said, moving toward Hobenrûd.
"Your daughter may have died," Hobenrûd told him, "there in the fields. Stop resisting, no one
else in your family has to die," he continued. He felt bad using Marin to get this monster to give
up, but it was for the good of everyone. And to his surprise, the king did stop for a second, but
only for a second.

"She betrayed me. I gave her all she could want, and she betrayed me...I guess no one will ever
replace Mar-yo." Hobenrûd was going to ask who Mar-yo was, but instead he assumed a battle
position with chain in one hand and sword in the other as the king closed in.

The king deflected his every strike with the golden ball on the upper side of the sceptre, and tried
more than once than thrust the extensible tip in his arm. But Hobenrûd was also skilled, and even
though he was tired from all the fighting, it wasn't easy for the king to finish him without
resorting to magic. He sidestepped every thrust the king tried at him, parried every slash, and
after ten minutes neither side had been more than scratched, nor exhausted, from their dance of
death.

Soon, a dragon-rider saw the commotion on the roof, and steered his giant beast to spew flames
on the king. And as the huge animal breathed flames on the rooftops, the king made a movement
with his hand, and, somehow, the flames couldn't reach him, as if there was an invisible shield
around the rooftop. Then, the dragon's neck suddenly went on a perfect vertical line, and a loud
cracking sound could be heard. The dragon, dead, fell down upon the soldiers below.

Hobenrûd and struck his mightiest blow at the king's wooden armour as he was distracted. But,
though the king decidedly felt the blow, the armour didn't break, or crack, or shatter. It was if the
runes inscribed on it made it indestructible. The king counter-attacked with a kick, that pushed
Hobenrûd away. Then he jumped and quickly tried to slash Hobenrûd, but he was prepared and
parried. Taking some distance.

They ran at each other, screaming madly, their weapons clashed, again, and again. Hobenrûd
managed to avoid a parry and slash the king's leg, away from the armour, but it was only a small
wound, hardly felt. The king, filled with rage, rotated the sceptre while yelling magical words.
The sceptre glowed with an eerie blue glow that slowly went up until it enveloped the king's
whole body.

They fought again, but this time, the king managed to get upper hand and the sceptre partly
wounded Hobenrûd's left arm. The king kicked his right leg and punched his face, throwing him
to the ground. He then went to Hobenrûd and took the bracelet off his arm with his metal glove.
The light surrounding slowly faded, and his right arm seemed to be fading too.

Without the bracelet, Hobenrûd could do nothing as the king pushed him, trying to throw him out
of the building, but with the bracelet in hand, his powers were highly diminished, so instead he
simply kept Hobenrûd forcefully on the ground, as he went to the large artefact, press a small
mound, opening a small transparent box, and put the red crystal there. "Ah, finally, the daemon
stone," he said, "I was worried that you might not reach me. That those Sardinians were going to
be too much for you. But I see you are good."
On the ground, Hobenrûd could barely speak "Why do you need that? It sucks your power."

"Tsk, tsk, Idiot. You cannot even begin to comprehend the power of this artefact, that all thought
lost. Amplifying its power I can gather enough magical energy from around the world to open a
portal big enough for Kiros to get in. Then, finally, I will be able to rule over this place and make
a good future for mankind. I trusted too much the soldiers, but they are a savage and
uncontrollable lot. Kiros, on the other hand, is just as savage, but much more controllable."

"The Bloody God?"

"Yes. It once roamed this world, until wizards banished him. It gave everyone so much of a
impression that it was included in the ancient pantheon. But ultimately, he's just a monster," the
king said, moving around and tinkering with his machinery, "Unfortunately, it is much easier for
one to open a gate out of this world than one into this world. And they still needed the combined
power of twenty wizards at the time. For some reason, I think I won't find as many willing
colleagues to help me in this, so I will have to do it alone."

"Are you insane!? Bringing the Bloody God back will be terrible! He destroyed the entire ancient
civilization!" Hobenrûd struggled to stand on his feet, but the power binding him was much too
strong.

The king didn't answer, he just pressed another elevation and the artefact started to move by
itself, opening reflective wings, and the transparent box where the crystal was started to glow in
red light. Hobenrûd could feel a strange convergence of power to the roof of the keep. The king
rose his hands to the skies and started chanting.

Hobenrûd realized he could move, slowly, if he made enough effort. The king's power was
waning, as the crystal concentrated all magical power in vicinity. He struggled to stand on his
feet, but all he could do was to half-crouch, half-stand. His arm seemed ready to fall down as he
stretched it to get the sword. The king didn't notice, as Hobenrûd was behind him, and he was far
too focused on his ceremony.

Hobenrûd moved, inch by inch, as the king shouted strange magical words, "Me cullan la
potentia kiros aparan en me daea reala; me cullad, te aparas--!" the chant was cut short as
Hobenrûd's sword pierced his chest, shoving him on the artefact. The king tried to get up, but all
he managed to do was to embed the sword even deeper within him, until he no longer moved.

But the artefact hadn't stopped glowing, noticing that the glow of the crystal seemed to be
growing, and the very air around them felt warped. Hobenrûd realized that it was too late, the
gate was opening. Instead of giving up, he tried tinkering with the artefact, but it was too
complicated for his understanding. Looking at the transparent box that held the crystal,
Hobenrûd decided that he had to do something, to save the world, to save Ruivoca, to save the
people, to save Marin.

He punched the box, there was a flash of light, and then darkness.
edit Epilogue
"History has no ending and no beginning; the epilogue of the past is the prologue of the future."
--Chronicler Janlaniel Kuchaker

Marin woke up in her room of the palace. At first she thought it was a dream, but the stinging
pain on the left side of her torso made her remember the physician brought her here. She grunted,
trying to get up.

"So you’re alive," It was Hobenrûd’s voice. She struggled to put herself in a sitting position and
look at him.

"...I guess," he was sitting on a white chair, beside her bed.

He smiled. His face was full of cuts, his left hand was in a bloody piece of cloth, his armour,
cracked, was on a table nearby, the crystal on his bracelet was cracked and his clothes were
ripped in many sections. He kept silent for some time, but then said:

"You look awful," It made her smile.

"You are not looking so good yourself…I guess it was a rough fight."

"Nah, nothing I could not handle. The king was all talk and no action. Okay, my sword was
shattered, okay, I lost half of my left hand, but hey, I still got my sword arm intact. I don’t
actually remember much of it tough. The physician said it was because of a severe trauma... but
what do physicians know?" None of the two spoke any words for the next seconds. Then the true
extent of the situation hit Marin.

"...So...now that...well, all of this is over...I guess, I’m a queen."

"Pretty much. Anita and Drindell want to speak with you later, by the way. But now, I gotta go to
the patient quarters, my hand hurts a little bit, Sallund knows why," he told her.

"Wait! ...Now that I am a queen...I will need..." she hesitated.

"You will need...?" he asked, but having an idea of what she meant. She tried to swallow to wet
her throat, it was dry, and she was nervous.

"I...Hoben, since almost a year ago, when I met you at that party I...I thought you were a...bandit,
and a rude bandit, too," she tried to start.

"Not so far from the truth," he tried to lighten up.

"I'm serious. Please, just let me...Hoben, after spending so much time with you and Drindell and
Gilbert and Anita. I...became different, I think. For better. And I think it was mostly thanks to
you, your obsession with helping the people...so...I mean, also...I have been growing fonder of
you since then. And now that I'm queen I would need a king to rule with me, and I wanted
someone that would be a good for the people, that could, you know, tell me if I'm doing it right,
and also...someone I liked. And I really like you now."

Hobenrûd looked at her eyes and smiled, but it soon faded.

"Nah...it wouldn’t work. I’m a warrior," Hobenrûd tried explaining to her.

"Bu-but, that isn’t what you are! I-i-it’s just what you do for a living," Marin spoke fast and in an
unsure tone.

“No it is not. The way of the warrior is a way of life. And after spending so much time with me,
you know that already. At first it could even work. A throne, feasts, knights. But I wouldn’t give
it more than a year...I’m a soldier. The only way I can feel better with myself is if I am fighting
for something. Something important, I would prefer."

Marin could feel her eyes getting wet, but she did her best to keep the tears in.

"Then I...I could go with you. I could resign the throne, give it to someone else...an-and go with
you," she told him.

"You can’t do that. It would throw the country in civil war...A leader must sacrifice herself for
her people," he told her, standing up from the chair.

Marin didn’t answer, but she could feel her eyes getting wetter, she swiped the tears with her
hands and kept silent.

"Please, don’t cry," Hobenrûd said, tears forming in his eyes. "I bet that in one year when I come
back to visit you’ll have a nice little prince as a husband. A nice little prince with effeminate
ways, who smells good and kisses you three times per day. And you’ll have a lot of kids, so
many that you won’t even have time to think about me...four, I would guess."

Marin couldn’t help but give a faint smile.

"Four kids in one year?" she pointed the mistake on the future he predicted for her.

"My! How the hell did you do that?! Heh...now, you’ll a great queen. If you have one third of the
talent you appear to have...you'll be the best queen this country ever had. And you’ll get a worthy
husband that will love you...and respect you, and...things like that,"

Marin smiled a little harder, but she still had tears on her eyes.

"And I bet you’ll find a new band of merry men, to follow you and fight with, who are even
better than the Cherry Wood knights...and...and you’ll be the greatest soldier in the...well, in the
world...and..."
She looked at his eyes and went silent. He simply sighed, smiled and turned around to leave.
After he crossed the doorway, she lowered her head and a single tear fell from her left eye. Then
she heard a voice:

"Oh, Priss...You just got one thing wrong," Hobenrûd had come back and was standing on the
doorway. She looked at him, "I already am."

He went to her bed and they kissed each other for the first, and last, time in recorded history.

--Mucaniacel Kuchaker