Elora Delcroft slid down off her horse with relief. It had been a long ride, story-collecting. Wars were vicious, nasty things — but they always yielded a vast harvest of new songs and tales. She had set out, some months ago before the Thirteen Day War to visit the tiny town of Hapgood, and she had been determined to finally visit. Even though she had heard of the devastation the voracious devil legions had visited on the place, and it was mostly a ghost town — she had made her way down the broken road from the north, and made her careful way through the mountains.
The bard had expected to find rubble, and maybe a few scared farmers she could share the good news of the triumphant victory in the ruins of Gilead to the east. Instead she found a stranger tale.
Stabbed into the earth, at the end of a field was a massive greatsword. It glowed fiercely, burning with holy light, somewhat diminished in impressiveness from the sweaty workshirt that was tossed over it’s hilt, and the lunch pail hung off the crossbar.
The half-elf walked up to the edge of the field, and looked down on the barbarian, Agnar — sweating and toiling in the fields with furious concentration. He dug each hole with vigor, then placed a single seed in each depression, then covering each gently with utmost attention and care. He was also vigorously lecturing each seed on the proper level of growth he expected to see, as well as some effective tactics for combating the winter chill that was only a few months away.
It was a late planting, and would be a lean harvest come spring. But it might save thousands of lives around the world. Beyond this field, she saw others working in nearby fields, planting.
Agnar Devil-blood, Champion of Sarenrae – bearer of the mighty sword, Cyrus would have other adventures –but for now his Bright Lady has put him to work in the strangest of fields, with the most uncomfortable of work.
Elora smiled. He looked as if he were enjoying himself. She shrugged out of her traveller’s cloak, and rolled up her sleeves.
Carbunkle, the First Librarian — the Sage of Sages rode screaming through the halls of the Primex Loghain on a shiny red scooter. He had a plate of flapjacks in one hand, a large mug of brown beer and the handlebars in his teeth. His Second, the scholar Paralellogram followed more sedately, dragging a blue wagon piled high with books and scrolls.
Every door on every level was open, flung wide — and the people of Aufero came and went. Touching the books, moving the books, and reading the books. The gnome had built a fiendish enchantment into the gates of the Library that prevented any texts leaving without first being stamped vigorously with a cheeky orange stamp showing his leering face and the words “BRING THIS SHIT, BACK.” on it — and at night a thousand sprites worked tirelessly putting each book back in its place — but during the day, the knowledge flowed freely, people talked loudly in designated Soundproof zones — and everywhere comfortable chairs and couches, alway waiting for a new reader to sit down.
He shouted something rude to his receptionist as he whizzed into his office, but she didn’t even look up from filing her fourth set of claws. The emancipated eidolon still refused to demean her glowing form with such trivial human concepts as clothes, but Lucina had taken to other forms of hygiene and fashion with alarming speed.
The First’s library was crammed with children. Some gnome, some blood-relation — but plenty more of just ragged, off the street gutter scamps. The war had left more than a few orphans, or broken children in the streets of Pice – and the First’s Story Hour was a welcome reprieve from the grief and toil outside — and a convenient place for Carbunkle to investigate the children’s woes and worries. More than a few left with gold pieces quietly slipped into their pockets – or stern instructions for their less-than-benevolent caregivers to come see the First bright and early the next morning.
Carbunkle cracked open the wide tome, and cleared his throat theatrically.
“Once upon a time, in the desert, four people found themselves locked up in a nasty hot prison made of stone and hate….”
Agros bobbed quietly in the water, and Fin balanced perfectly on an outcropping of stone.
The Symphony of Blood had taken its toll on the Flying Island, now it could best be called the Floating Island. The vicious attacks of the devils had nearly gutted the aerolith landmass, and it had slowly sank — barely making it out over the ocean before coming to rest.
Only a third of the city was still above water, but enough. Enough room for his school, his home.
Behind him his students followed his motions carefully. Mostly dwarven, expatriates from Ospria — but a few of the younger races were scattered amongst them.
His hands moved, perfect and slow. The eyes of his students followed, and they echoed the movements as best as they could.
There was so much more to teach them — they could learn the physical in months, but the spiritual? How could he teach, what had been so hard for him to learn?
A wave crested, and a shining drop of salt water landed right between his eyes. Fin smiled, and heeded his Uncle’s words.
The drop is not the wave, the lesson is not the Way, the word is not the truth. Begin. It is enough.
The King of Open and Shut smiled. A new level rose on the Red Tower, as Hell bent to his will.
The Red City was crowded, crammed full of angry warriors and bitter fiends. He would hone that ire, make it as sharp as a poniard. They had much work to do to prepare. To prepare for the day, that the mortals would beg for them to return.
An empty skeleton laughed in a red city, with the joy of a delighted child.
Echo and Ziria met, at the base of Coracle Station — the ruined outpost of Seafoam. They had not spoken in weeks, but he had come when she called — as she would have come if he asked it. The water above their heads shone with filtered sunlight, refracting oddly through the oily residue that the tower still dripped with. A filthy land construction, but it had a purpose — and it could be turned to the sea’s purpose. It had been built to harness the Precursor’s Machine, and Echo had need of its might. The devils would return one day, and she wanted to be certain that her ocean was death to their kind.
Ziria listened to her plan calmly, then bowed without sarcasm. “As the future Queen, how can I do anything but obey?”
Echo rolled her eyes, and called the creatures of the sea to her. She cut through the waves, swimming between this world and the World of Spirit as simply as breathing. Her friends and subjects — her most precious charges swam close with joy and excitement. She would return to the crumbling tower in time, but for now she was content to simply move — to fly beneath the waves, as free as a thought, as free as a wish, as free and wild as the sea itself.
Haskeer pulled a lump of glowing hot metal from the forge, and slammed it onto his anvil. Three nearby gryphons looked on with bemused interest, but his view of them was soon blocked by the massive bulk of his assistant, the living armor Rulf.
The half-orc worked feverishly at his task — with cunning hammer strokes, he pounded and folded the metal. Before his eyes a steel rose took shape. The Knights of the Rose had been horribly reduced in number by the war, but he was hopeful that new squires would be appearing any day. Lady Seaflower had stopped by Caleron just a few weeks ago, encouraging him to go on a recruitment trip to all the major cities. “ A hero like yourself makes a much better sales pitch, then a battered old hedge knight like me.” she had smiled.
The rose complete, he nodded to Rulf…the living armor carefully plucked the still burning metal off the anvil, and plunged it into the water. Then he laid it carefully on a low wooden table, and studied it intently. The strange construct had been fascinated by the craft, and had proved an eager pupil — in an eerie sort of way.
He wanted to go on the rallying trip for the Knights of the Rose, but he found the position of Living Legend uncomfortable — much as he viewed the role of King that loomed before him.
Cai had lingered for nearly two months since their wedding, but the great man’s strength had finally given out. Alastelle had sat by his bedside until the very end. The protective dome around the city had sedately popped, like a soap bubble. Now the people of Caleron looked to him for protection….a serious duty.
His ‘farm’ was larger than he imagined, but the forge was about right. He had work to do, good work. The world must be prepared for the darkness waiting around the bend of Time — if not the devils, then the thousand other faces of Evil. The endless play, the Twilight Kingdom – where the actors wore a thousand masks to hide the dark heart behind. He, and his friends would not waste the years of peace — and he would do his best to fill the world with the greatest weapon against the Dark.
Children. Beloved children, raised in strength and joy. New stories, with the very best of beginnings.
Haskeer smiled tuskily, and tapped his hammer once on the anvil. It rang like a bell.