Yoliander's Gate was crowded with travellers and merchants on their wagons and carts. He slowedWhitesong as he approached the pale grey stones of the city gate, joining the flow of crowd heading into the city. Whitesong was panting and Fayte was dripping sweat from the searing noon sun. He stroked her head and kissed her once, thanking her for the effort and promising her a bowl of water once they were at the castle. The flow was moving too slow so Fayte got off the road and cut ahead by the grass. A few merchants yelled at him but Fayte ignored them. I need to get this to father at once.
A knight dressed in his armour of steel plates stood by the side of the gate behind Rondiar's wall.
"Captain Teynier," Fayte said, moving Whitesong out of the street. "Fair noon, Sir."
"Good day to you as well," the Captain of the City's Watch said. "I wasn't expecting my squire to return until dusk on the morrow."
"I have urgent news to bring to my father," Fayte said, bending over to speak closer to Captain Teynier. He dropped his voice to a whisper. "Ironsville was attacked by a horde of undeads last night."
The middle aged man folded his thick arms and raised a hand to rub the thick brown beard around his chin. Captain Teynier was not one to be easily frightened or disturbed. He had faced countless battles and lived through them all. If the scar that ran straight down the left of his face was not proof, there were more that covered his tanned body.
"Go," he said after a thought. "This is beyond my power. But before that-"
"Lady Linda is well and unharmed as are the folks," Fayte said. "But her lord husband rode out the same night to find Loren. He went hunting in the day but didn't return."
"Loren? That idiot cousin of mine enjoys the thrill of the hunt too much." Captain Teynier shook his head. "But his passion has kept his skills sharp. Uncle Jacob is no simple smith either. Very well. Go, ride quickly. I will see you later in the day."
The streets of Rondiar led upwards gently to the castle. Once Fayte was out of the lower quarters, the street began to clear up so he urged Whitesong on faster. Castle guards patrolled the walls of Castle Rondiar, the sun gleaming off their grey helms. Houses of noble families surrounded him as he approached the castle's drawbridge.
It was said that while the first King had command the construction of Rondiar City, the nine heroes who defeated the Great Evil were the ones who made Castle Rondiar. Many claimed it was no more than just a tale, yet others say it was the only explanation for the strange inscriptions, carved into the stones above the drawbridge and several other places in the castle and only in the castle. Not even the High Sage could decipher those words.
Fayte rode across the drawbridge and into the courtyard of the royal castle. The stable master hurried to him and he left Whitesong with the man before he ran into the castle and entered the Great Hall. White carpet led the way to the different rooms on both sides and to the front where the grand stairs were. Fayte ran up the steps and made a right, up to the second level across three different hallways before he finally arrived. His father's office was marked by two knight's swords hanging by the sides, with a white shield hung right above the door.
"NO!" he heard a man shout.
Father! Fayte shoved through the door and drew his sword.
"What happened?" he yelled. "Woah."
The King and his father looked at him blankly. The two men were seated in the centre of the small room. Cases filled with books surrounded them with two tables at the side stacked with scrolls and letters. The sun poured in through the balcony behind his father's table, casting patterns of oak tree leaves into the office. In the centre, his father and the King sat with a small chess table between them. The Lord-Knight had his hands pulling on his hair with what seemed to be a checkmate before him.
"Please don't kill me," the King pleaded innocently.
Fayte turned his head and saw his sword. "Woah!" He quickly put it away. "I beg for your forgiveness, your Majesty, I heard someone shouting and-"
"Ah," the King started grinning as he turned back to the chess pieces. "That would be your father. Losing."
King Eardon was dressed in a plain cotton tunic and a pair of purple dyed breeches. Even in plain clothing and without his crown, the King was still the picture of royalty. Though his age began to show through the strands in his hair, the silver and white were more royal than they were old. His arms were thick with muscles, much like his father, but his skin fairer and less worn by the sun.
"I haven't lost yet," his father said, wearing a linen shirt and a tanned leather vest. "And why are you back so soon? I thought you said you wouldn't be returning until tomorrow evening?"
"Ironsville was attacked," Fayte said and the two men immediately turned away from their game. "By a horde of undeads."
The King strode into the throne room in his white cloak and royal velvet robes with his crown atop his head. The throne room was more of a hall than a room. The size was necessary for every moon turn the King would hold a meeting with the representatives of his people - both commoners and nobles - to hear grievances and declarations and whatever matters that his people would wish to raise to him. On this day and other days when there was need of it, the throne room housed meetings for the King's Council.
All who were present rose from the round rosewood table set in the middle of the room. Golden rays poured from the west, casting a great shadow from the King as he went round the table. They waited until King Eardon was seated on his throne before they sat down again.
"Fayte," the King said.
He stepped forward and recounted the events of the previous night.
Present at the table were Queen Remilda and Emily who took the two seats next to the King. Sitting next to the Princess was his father and his second in command, Lady Feralina with the rank of Master Knight, and Sir Windon with the rank of Captain who took charge of the land where Ironsville was a part of.
"Lasandra," said the King.
Seated on the other side of the King was Archimage Lasandra with her staff of ice resting against her magical seat of ice as well. Accompanying her was Quxtin the Wizard who looked several years younger with strands of grey highlighting his shoulder-long hair.
The old mage nodded. "I will send a party of three mages to aid the town. They will take care of the corpses too. Randon is too young to have the mana to incinerate that many corpses."
She waved her hand in the air and a little ice bird froze into existence. It perched itself on her finger and she whispered a few words to it before the little bird took off and flew out of the window.
"Frendon?" the King asked.
"One of my lieutenants in Oaksblade will escort two priestesses over," his father said, glancing at the old Bishop Tydon who sat next to Captain Windon. "Windon will also be transferring a troop of soldiers from Oaksblade over to Ironsville. The lieutenant will have command."
"A whole troop?" the King said.
"Ironsville is located at the outer rim of the Green River land," his father explained. "Defending it would reinforce the entire land. Oaksblade is a flight hub so there are many people passing by, including mages and knights who are off duty. They will assist to defend the town if necessary."
The King nodded, satisfied.
"I want a review of Ironsville's defences once this is all over," he whispered. A young scribe stood behind the King as how Fayte was standing behind his father now. "What of the report from Lady Silvia Greno?"
Lady… Fayte hid a smile. He had often forgotten that Aunt Silvia was a highly renowned Priestess back when she still served in the Order of the White Rose.
The table turned their attention to a middle-aged man and a little boy, both wearing silk robes dyed with the teal of the sky and lined with white velvet, with a gold-framed monocle clipped to their collars. When he heard no one speak, the middle-aged man turned to his left and nudged the little boy who was too engrossed in his book. The boy looked up to see the whole table looking at him. All of them were smiling tenderly and expectantly, like how one would when waiting for a child to do something.
Kestel shut his book begrudgingly.
The High Sage put his book away and dug into the left of his large and long sleeve. The clothes he and the man beside him wore were strange and unlike the ones the people of Hylan wore. When he did not find it there, he dug into his right sleeve and pulled out a letter which he placed onto the table. He then hopped off the chair and looked through the four books that he was sitting on to elevate him. The High Sage placed a tome, bound in black leather with a brown spine, onto the table before climbing back onto his seat.
The man beside him waved his hand and a flat, circular device in the centre of the table opened up and shot out a ray of light. Tiny, glowing dust speckles floated up from the device and they clumped together in the air to form a vaguely humanoid figure. Fayte watched and slowly recognised it as the shape came together.
"Not an undead," the High Sage said, his voice soft and toneless. "Looks like one. Same for werewolf. Both earth animations. Local graveyard exhumed. Suspect imitation magic. Advance earth magic. Create large numbers. But weak individually."
The dust speckles reformed into a werewolf.
Sera knows if I had slashed down his parents' corpses…
"Angel's Smite used. Priest's holy strike. Reduced to ashes. Buried bodies reanimated. Necro magic present."
Archimage Lasandra swore under her breath while the others shifted in their seats uneasily.
"Necro magic bad," the High Sage said, ending his presentation before he flipped open his book and went back to reading.
"That's it?" the King said, not at all satisfied with the report.
The middle-aged man shook his head. "No, your Majesty, it is only that the High Sage cannot make any more analysis, not until he sees the corpses and the werewolf himself. What he just presented is based on the letter from Lady Silvia Greno."
"Is that all then, Administrator?" so the King asked.
"Until the corpses arrive," he said, glancing at the High Sage to make sure the boy had nothing to add. "Aye, your Majesty."
"Necro magic present," Kestel then said. "But easily dispatched. Easy is sloppy. Likely not him."
The council looked at one another and nodded, but the High Sage's words assured them only a little.
"It could be a warning," his father said, tapping his gauntlet finger on the table. "A warning of what's to come. Are you sure that there wasn't anything else that happened?"
Fayte shook his head. "There was no leader in the attack. No message was given to us. As far as we could tell, it was just a random attack. Lord Jacob's son might know more but we will have to find him first. With the search party from Oaksblade gryphons helping out, I believe it will not take long."
The King sighed and leaned back against his throne as Emily looked at him with worry.
"If the Black City attacks again, we might not be able to withstand it," he said, rubbing his temples. "Not with him leading the Black Army."
"I will speak to her about this," Archimage Lasandra said. "She may still have her own ways to communicate with him. Still, there has been no movements outside the Black City for the past months. I've been to the Light Tower twice myself and my mages there have nothing to report."
"Aside from the Black City," the Bishop said, his words came out slowly but his voice was strong. "Is there no one else who could be responsible for this?"
They paused to think and-
"Un…lord of …lan," the High Sage murmured, reading his book.
"What did he say?" the King asked.
"Underlord of Hylan," his father repeated, turning back to Kestel. "You believe the Underlord is behind this?"
"Erm, not quite I think, my lord," said the Administrator, glancing at Kestel. "He means to ask the Underlord. Perhaps he has information to share."
The King scoffed. "The Underlord never has anything to share. At least not for free."
"It could be a stray necromancer or an earth mage," Archimage Lasandra said, resting her hand comfortably on her seat of ice. "Imitation magic… Hmm, I will not go so far as to say a foreign school of magic is involved here… yet. We know too little right now."
Everyone nodded, except for the High Sage who was busy reading.
"Send word to all towns and villages," the King commanded. "I want at least the following to be stationed at each place. One sorcerer, wizard, or two mages, one priest and two knights. If the village does not have their own militia, seven soldiers are to be sent as well, more if there is need for it. Inform all cities, castles and forts to be on their guard as well. Any objections?"
He looked at all who were present and all were in favour.
"End of session then," King Eardon said and stood-
"Saldara is sandy," said the High Sage.
The King rolled his eyes. Kestel had a habit of waiting until the last moment before speaking up. Even so, every person in Rondiar was willing to put up with the High Sage, even the King, so he sat down and looked at the boy.
"Langton…" the King warned when Kestel did not elaborate.
Administrator Langton cleared his throat nervously. "I-If I am not mistaken, what the High Sage means is that uh, this could have been caused by the Saldarians. Sand is part of earth, I believe."
And when it involved Saldara…
"But they want peace," Emily said, sitting up. "They wouldn't attack us for no reason. Not unless Ironsville provoked them."
"Ironsville did no such thing," Fayte said, taking offense. "Trust me."
"I… I didn't mean that," she said softly. "Sorry. What I meant was-"
"Saldara wants peace," Kestel said, getting up, his eyes still moving from left to right as he continued to read. "Create a problem."
The High Sage hopped off his seat and began walking out.
"Help fix problem. Make us grateful. Make us trust," he went on saying until he was at the door. "Then betray us. Kill us all."