Thursday, September 24, 2009

Paladin-Part 5

James looked over to Thomas, who nodded in reply.

“Go on.” James said, skeptical, “We’re listening.”

Mentat turned his gaze to Thomas, still holding the talisman against him.

“Boy, what do you know of magic?” Mentat said.

“It is a discipline, suitable to any man with the mind for study and the will for practice.” Thomas said, “The Masters assess the boys early and select them as students, training them for a time equal to the warriors and scouts, then initiating them into their brotherhood.”

Mentat smiled. “That is exactly the answer that I expected.”

“Am I wrong?”

“Not in respect to what you learned. The magic that the Eight Masters practice is as you say, because I know first-hand that what you said is true. What you are wrong about is that not all students become students because they have the intellectual muscle for it.”

Donaldson glared at Mentat, half-incensed and half-imploring, to shut up- and Mentat, seeing it, smirked widely.

“James, mind Donaldson there, and see his reaction. That should guide you in deciding the veracity of what I speak.” Mentat said, briefing looking over at James, "Thomas, some of those selected as students are not selected because they have the qualities that the Masters desire, but because of another quality—one that cannot be taught, but instead is inherent in one’s being—that opens another form of magic to those that possess this quality.”

“What trait is this?”

Mentat stared at Thomas. Without speaking, Thomas and James heard his voice say “This trait, boy, is what they seek but never reveal to the people at large. The power of the awakened mind is what they seek, and they seek it because it cannot be taught!”

Donaldson’s face turned white, all color flushed from it. James took note of this, and Mentat—now present in James’s mind—did also.

“See now, James? Donaldson here knows. You see, he was there when the event that made me what I am now occurred. Donaldson, show the boys your marks.”

Unwilling, yet compelled, Donaldson rolled up the sleeve of his tunic and revealed the mark of the White Tower on his shoulder.

“Once, Donaldson was part of the Company of the White Tower. Years ago, before you two were so much as a thought in your fathers’ eyes, the Archmage and the Eight Masters did a great working of magic. Encouraged by David, the nine of them attempted a ritual from a long-lost grimoire, with the Archmage as both focus and recipient of the ritual’s magic. It worked, and the Archmage transcended mortal flesh.”

Both Thomas and James recoiled at the thought, but again Mentat reacted faster than they did.

“The Archmage—and, soon thereafter, the Eight Masters—transformed into entities that, as I heard David say, ‘…was the Word made Flesh.’ Their command of knowledge and language prepared them for transcending into a state of being wherein that body of lore is now literally their body. Once they acclimated to their new forms, the nine of them began making more such beings out of their most favored students.”

“I recall now that the Archmage still spoke well of you, when speaking of former students.” James said.

“Though puzzling, and often the source of strange happenings.” Thomas said, adding details, “The Archmage said that he still cannot deduce what induced you to turn against the People.”

Mentat smirked, but his mouth remained silent; instead, he spoke again mind-to-mind, saying “I was one of them, a favorite of the Archmage, a student from before the Azure Flames- but only just before. I went to him to seek help with my own burgeoning talents, unaware of what they were at the time, and I did as bidden in return for his tutelage.”

“Then what happened break?” Thomas said, “What caused you to leave?”

“I attained the mastery of knowledge and strength of will desired, despite all that went wrong, and proved my worth to the Masters. Other students valued my insights into the hearts and minds of others, as it came easy to me; this is why the Archmage kept me close, urging me to focus on my abilities as a Seer. When they deemed me ready, they invited me to a second—and greater—initiation rite; they intended to transform me as they did themselves.”

James, perceiving the connection, leapt to it: “It went wrong, did it?”

“Perceptive! Good, James. That is correct.” Mentat thought, “When the ritual reached its climax, the expected phenomenon did not occur; there should have been a cacophony of voices, gradually harmonizing into a single chorus, signifying that the transformation finished its process. Instead, what happened was that I discorporated entirely for a moment as a flood of thoughts and memories deluged the ritual chamber; gradually a pool of ectoplasm formed in the center of the ritual circle, and as it reshaped into my new form the massive mental flood receded. Once I returned to my senses, I found that I was not human anymore either- but not as they were.”

“You fled because they reacted badly?” Thomas said.

“The Masters of Necromancy and the Elements immediately attempted to kill me, casting terrible spells of death and destruction at me. I reflexively warding off the power of their spells, but it drained me greatly, and seeing the confusion erupt at the explosions about us I took flight and did not stop fleeing until I collapsed.”
Donaldson sank his head, unable to speak and now unable to stop Mentat from revealing the truth.

“Donaldson got the order to track me down. He and others from the Company of the Tower followed my path of escape, with some of the other students of the Masters aiding them. I knew that they would find me in time, so I decided to hide long enough to figure what powers I now had at my command. I retained all of my knowledge of magic, and I learned soon that I could still use it, but the ritual of transcendence interacted with my innate mental talents to create this new form. In this new form, my innate talents magnified in potency and variety.”

That last bit caught the attention of Thomas and James. At that moment, the bonds holding Mentat slipped and the talisman before him stopped glowing altogether.

“My time with the Archmage left me with an appreciation for foreknowledge, boys. I knew that you travelled this way, and I know why you journey so far. I am here not to stop you, but to aide you, because your elders did not tell you all that you need to know.”

To their credit, neither James nor Thomas lost their cool.

“That tangent aside, let me finish this tale.” Mentat said, without speaking, as he rose to his feat, “I foresaw their approach. I divided the party into smaller units using diversions and playing the stronger wills against one another. I harmed few, and slew none, knowing full well that only Donaldson knew the truth.”
Mentat turned his gaze to Donaldson.

“Donaldson I did harm, and I harmed him by humiliating him in single combat before the rest of his then-exhausted hunting party as a display of power and a declaration of autonomy. As a result of that, the Masters expelled him from the Tower and from the center of society, exiling him into the countryside as commander of this or that garrison under the guise of being a trouble-shooter.”

James and Thomas now looked at Donaldson, seeing through his mask of veteran confidence to behold the broken man beneath it.

“Now, soon after we are done here, I shall ensure that word of this encounter reaches the necessary ears; you two shall be safe, for now, as I suspect the Archmage’s designs for you are not meant to keep you ignorant forever, but Donaldson here shall not be seen again- he’s going to disappear to wherever those that displease the Masters go.”

James stood up, walked over to Donaldson, picked up the older man’s chin and dried the tears now running down his cheeks.

“I blame you not.” James said, “You did your duty. It is clear to me that Mentat could have killed you, but chose mercy instead of vengeance.”

“Are you certain that we’ve been told the truth, James?” Thomas said.
James nodded. “As Mentat said, Donaldson’s reactions revealed the truth, and this is the face of a deeply ashamed man horrified by the revelation of a terrible secret. What fault lies here is beyond our power to rectify, for now, Thomas.”

“James,” Mentat said, without saying, “Donaldson once was much like your man Cavil, albeit more charming, and sought the Masters’ favor in the pursuit of his own ambitions. If he is to be forgiven, let it be for his own sins and not those of others.”

“That’s who he was, Mentat, not who he is now. You’ve seen him up close for some time, have you not? Being exiled for so long, yet succeeding in his positions, means that he’s changed somehow.”

Mentat paused, taken aback, and then smiled widely.

“Now I see the Archmage’s intention.” Mentat said, without saying, “I was right to decide on aiding you. You’re the man he spent over a century waiting for, James.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Paladin-Part 4

“We must not underestimate this alien, sir.” Thomas said as he waved for a pitcher to come their way, “He may be complacent, but our presence cannot help but to put him on his guard. Our ruse requires a further layer to work.”

James thumbed through the journal. As he found the pages that he wanted, he bent a corner slightly to mark them.

“Let Torquil and Cavil engage the men of this tower in sport.” Thomas said, “I see in their eyes that they would test us if they could, so allow it. Detail the Hamiltons to keep the peace, and let the others mix as they will. With their attention diverted, we can deal with our host and his aide directly.”

James nodded, seeing the wisdom in this plan, as it required little than to let men be men when the day comes to an end. Without a word, James gave consent to execute the plan.

“Torquil!” Thomas said, “Come now, friend, and show our elders your skill with knives.”

Torquil rose from his seat at the table and walked forward to the center of the room. Cavil tossed the wiry youth a belt of sheathed knives, which Torquil caught with aplomb, and girded it about his waste.

“Comrades!” he said, drawing some of those knives, “My master’s vizier puts me to the spot, but it is true, I have some talent with knives.”

Torquil began juggling a handful of knives, yet watched them not; his eyes scanned the tables, with the men—his own youthful comrades as well as the older men of the garrison—now closing around the center in a circle about him.

“As a boy, I picked up this habit as a pastime. My mother had me do it to keep me out from underfoot.” Torquil said, and the men laughed, knowingly, reflecting on their own time as a child, “Of course, she didn’t let me use knives. I used rocks until I was 10 years old, when my father had me learn to juggle knives as he taught me to throw them.”

As Torquil took and held the attention of the men, James and Thomas arose from their seats and moved about the gathered crowd. Thomas, following the plan, bade first the twin Hamilton men and then Cavil to do as James ordered- couched as useful suggestions. James, on the other hand, went to the commander’s table and bade him to retire to the elder’s office, which took no effort to achieve.

So both commanders, and their aides, quietly left the crowd of men entertained by young Torquil—for now—and his combination of tale-spinning, juggling and knife-throwing. A few moments later, all of them entered the much quieter confines of Commander Donaldson’s office.

Holding forth Thomas’s journal, James said “As I said before, I think it wise to compare our notes.”

As James opened Thomas’s journal to the first of the prepared pages, Thomas turned his eyes to the aide; he kept his eyes on Thomas, wary of the young wizard, as he retrieved duty logs and archived reports for review by James and Donaldson.

“Young Master,” Donaldson said, taking the articles from the aide, “you are wise to consult with me before moving on. We’ve had quite the run of encounters over the last few years with the sort of monsters you’re likely to come across as you pass into the frontier- and then into the wilderness beyond.”

“I appreciate your assistance, Commander.” James said.

Donaldson opened the logs and reports, placing them next to Thomas’s journal.

“Commander,” Thomas said, keeping an eye on the aide, “my master warned me of a distressing variety of antagonists out here and beyond. My journal has the details on those I’d been told to record in depth.”

“Likewise,” James said, “the Archmage took the time to inform me in some detail as to what is out this way.”

Donaldson stroked his beard, contemplating.

“Sir,” the aide said, “we’ve had continuing incursions with the mindless dead coming over from the east. Easily contained and put down, but their continued presence is troubling; it signifies that there is a terrible power over the mountains.”

Donaldson nodded. “Indeed, but those are just shambling things- and not true threats, like the mutant hordes.”

Pointing to pages in the logs, and handing a report to Thomas, Donaldson said “We’ve had an issue with raiders slipping past the border marches and striking deep into the interior. These are mutant men, often astride mounts equally monstrous, seeking to plunder our lands- and worse, had we not sent our women and children to the White Tower.”

Thomas passed the report provided to James, pointing to a particular item, and James immediately took note of it.

“You’ve taken casualties in your encounters, Commander.” James said.

“Yes, and I’ve had to send them towards the Hospital. The wounds sustained were such that we could not handle them here. My aide here, however, has so far enjoyed good fortune; he’s suffered several wounds, yet recovered from them all- even the impalement sustained from a goring by one those mutant beasts.”

The aide smiled, stifling a laugh, and said “Truth it is.”

“That is good fortune.” Thomas said, “Especially surviving an impaling wound like that, without attention.”

The aide rubbed his torso, saying “Apparently the beast didn’t hit anything vital.”

James and Thomas passed quick glances to each other.

“Commander, about these mutants: your report corroborates what we’ve been told, as they seem to press and probe across our border with the mountains. Similar raiders harass our boats and parties that range across the bay.”

“You imply a central leadership, and an overall plan.” Donaldson said.

“We have reason to believe that these raids are more than just probes, sir.” James said, “We believe that the enemy uses these raids to cover the infiltration of spies into our midst.”

Donaldson took the worse without apparent impact, as if he too thought so.

“The commander communicated such sentiments previously.”

James and Thomas turned their attention fully to the aide. Thomas drew a small disc-like talisman from an inside pocket as James scanned the logs.

“Did you now, sir?” James said, as he now shifted to the reports, “I see no records of such a report.”

“No doubt that it remains shelved.” Donaldson said.

The talisman turned red in Thomas’s hand, and Thomas revealed it to the others.

“Sir, the Coin of the Seer says otherwise.”

Donaldson looked on, staring in disbelief at the disc now glowing red in the wizard’s right hand.

“Commander,” James said, “your reputation is in danger. I ask you again: did you send such a report to the Tower?”

The aide, now skittish, quickly moved forward and took his superior by the shoulders. Shaking them, he said—stridently, not softly—“Sir, a moment’s search will do fine.”

Thomas waved the disc towards the aide in a single sweeping movement of his arm. The glow from the disc washed over the aide, and his form flickered a moment- like the flash of vision one sees in the night when a lightning bolt strikes during a storm. Donaldson shook his head violently, as if trying to throw off fatigue or a headache, which kept the aide’s attention off James long enough to draw his sword and put it to the aide’s neck.

Donaldson, his senses recovered, backed away once he saw James’s sword at his aide’s neck and gasped.

“Master James, what is this?” Donaldson said.

“An alien.” James said, “One that ensnared your mind, albeit with weak magic.”

Thomas, keeping the talisman’s face at the aide, moved to a save distance.

“Call for a man to bring a rope and some cloth. I intend to bind this alien, gag him and blindfold him.” James said, “Once secured, quietly, we shall interrogate him.”

The aide’s visage shifted. His skin turned pale, his hair red as blood and his eyes gleaming as jade. Donaldson froze in place; James and Thomas saw the elder man’s brand on his hand glow red- and now, both young men realized that this was more than just an outsider hiding amongst the People of the White Tower.

“Who—what—are you?” Thomas said, insistent.

“A chair.” The face changer said, “This will not be quick.”

Cautiously, James pulled forth a chair—keeping the alien covered—and then shoved him into it.

“As you see, what I am about to tell you is something that your elders are forbidden by your Eight Masters to reveal to you- something they never want you to know.”

James sheathed his sword, and instead put a hand on a knife.

“Go on.” Thomas said, keeping the talisman on their captive.

Donaldson also took a seat, now in a corner of the room, having been struck mute by the magic binding him.

“I was like you, once. I had a mother, father, siblings, friends, a lover. Though I don’t look it, I am easily Donaldson’s age. I remember how the world used to be, before—as you know it—the Rain of Azure Flames. Unlike your elders, I can speak freely about what it was- what it really was, not what you’ve been told it was. I know the truth, same as your elders- and especially as your ‘Eight Masters’ and the Archmage do.”

Realization crossed Thomas’s mind, and then his face.

“Yes, apprentice, I am one of the Lost Ones.”

The name—the label—filled James and Thomas with dread; before them was one of those that, as their parents told them, repayed the Archmage’s saving of their lives from the Azure Flames with ingratitude and eventually got banished from the Lands of the Tower.

“No, boys, I was not ‘banished’. I know your minds, and I tell you—truly—that I fled the Tower. I can tell that you’re both far too young to know the secrets that surround you about my former brethren, so allow me to start with my name. I am Mentat, and it is because of a failed magical working that I am the first of the so-called ‘Lost Ones’.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paladin-Part 3

The people cheered for a long moment before David, wishing to get this done, calmed them with a wave of his hands.

“Stand and be recognized, Randall Alvin Torquil. Your deft hands, swift feet and keen senses shall serve your companions well once you pass into the wilds beyond our lands."

The people’s response was subdued. Scouts, while valued, had a reputation for not remembering that their fast-and-loose ways in the field were not tolerated when within the walls of society. This is also why most of them spend most of their time away from the White Tower, away from the center of their society, and instead preferred to range along the pacified bawn or explore into the wilds.

“Stand and be recognized, Gregory Andrew Cavil. Your might and fury shall serve well here, smiting the foes of our people.”

James, Thomas and Torquil knew Cavil by reputation- and that reputation was one that did not flatter them. Cavil, indeed, is one of the strongest warriors seen in years. His temper matches it, which is why he holds no position of leadership, something that irks him greatly.

Eight others David named. The Hamilton boys, twin brothers, are renown for their mastery of fighting as a pair in skirmishes and brawls. Edward Redhand got that name for an incident two years ago, when his team got ambushed by some monster while on patrol, that ended when Edward drove his sword through the monster’s skull with such force that his hand followed. Jeremy Olson came out of the Scouts, as Torquil did, but wasn’t that good at scouting; instead, he turned out to be an expert skirmisher. Asby was a rarity amongst the people’s warriors, for he spent time amongst the girls in the Hospital learning medicine—something normally forbidden—to become a medic; his mother still feels bitter about it. Scott, Patrick and William—while able warriors—were better known for their senses of humor, and their willingness to use it.

All told, a dozen in this cadre, under James’s command stood and got recognized. At the end, the people showed their appreciation with a standing ovation. Mothers held forth their young sons, yet children, and said to them that James and his comrades were what they must become. Fathers talked with one another, making tentative agreements regarding marriages, and much merry-making was had.

As for the girls—now young women—they gave what appreciation was permissible between unmarried adults; those women who favored this or that man amongst the company went forth and kissed that man on the cheek. Often they whispered words, encouraging or enticing as they willed, and the elders knew it- yet, wisely, they did nothing. Soon enough, so all present thought, the matter of which man would take which woman as a wife and finish the assimilation into adult society—thus preserving their fragile island of order—would be solved to the satisfaction of the government as well as the families.

But for James, despite receiving as many such favors as the others now under his command, he found the affair by now tiresome. With a look towards David, he sensed that his master’s friend and companion shared that impatience, and once David again reclaimed the attention of the feasters he moved to end his boredom.

“Our purpose here is fulfilled, so our event is over. Our heroes need their rest, and some yet have work to do before retiring for the night. Be well, but be gone.”

* * * * *

James retired to the White Tower. Tomorrow, he knew, he would gather with his subordinates and march towards Silver Top Mountain. Going from the White Tower, the center and citadel of his people, all the way to that far distant summit would be neither swift nor easy- and the first enemy to conquer will be boredom. Marching outward from the center means a march through swaths of friendly, pacified territory; at most, they may encounter a dispute or a feral animal, due to regular patrols maintaining the peace. Rolling hills, covered in farmsteads producing grains needed for a growing—albeit slowly—population and their animals, as well as logging camps and road crews taking other resources and transporting them wherever needed, do not make for good storytelling.

As James led the men through these pacified lands, he became acquainted with his subordinates. They did not fail to meet the expectations set by their first impressions. Thomas was indeed a walking archive of lore, Torquil a reliable outrider and scout, Cavil a brute and a braggart, and so on. In particular, the threesome of Scott, Patrick and William kept the cadre’s spirits lively with their wit and jests.

Their route to the frontier, into the wilds, wound through a series of towers and forts built throughout the bawn claimed by the People of the White Tower. The cadre called on each in turn, taking the time needed to rest and resupply before moving on. The men at those towers and forts, all older than the cadre, looked on these youths barely out of training with a mixture of concern and pity; word of the mission travelled swiftly throughout the community, and many of the garrisons that resided in the lands patrolled by those garrisons—following the policy of occupation by a farmer-militia—wondered what the Archmage and the Eight Masters are up to in sending untried, inexperienced youths on such a long-ranging and dangerous mission.

On the eve of their seventh day out from the White Tower, the cadre arrived at a fort—little more than a tower enclosed inside a wall—halfway between the White Tower and the edge of the White Tower’s dominion. The garrison received the cadre warmly, having heard of their coming and prepared accordingly.

That night, at dinner, Thomas—sitting next to James—leaned close to James and whispered into his ear.

“Sir, do you see the man serving as the commander’s aide?”

James glanced over at the indicated man and nodded.

“There is something peculiar about him, something off, that I can’t put my figure on just yet.”

James, in turned, whispered to Thomas. “A threat?”

“I cannot say, sir.” Thomas tapped on his book satchel, “If I could remove myself from the table, I may be able to determine that.”

James nodded, understanding Thomas’s intention.

Speaking up, James said “Thomas, would you go retrieve your journal please? I would like to compare our notes against our host’s logs over recent days.”

James then looked over to the commander. “Would you would excuse my vizier for a moment, Commander Donaldson?”

Donaldson, without thinking, obliged and Thomas left the table. Once away and outside, he did retrieve the journal- and then went for the privy. Inside, he drew forth the other book he wanted—his spellbook—and spent the space of a usual privy visit instead going over one of the most basic of divinations: the spell to divine the presence of magic itself. With the spell at hand, Thomas again approached the feasting hall. Lingering in the shadows near the door, he paused just long enough for Commander Donaldson to propose a toast to the cadre’s success. As the men raised their cups, they raised their voices- granting Thomas the cover he needed to successfully intone the spell’s incantation without being heard; being in the shadows covered the rest of the magic’s required elements.

Thomas fixed his gaze upon Donaldson’s aide, and he saw about the aide the presence of some form of active magics of a sort not quite what he knew- like the difference between two shades of the same color. Thomas narrowed his gaze, concentrating intently upon the aide, and soon he saw that this man was not only a potent magic-user but also not truly human. Yet the magics about the aide were minimal in nature; there was nothing obscuring his true form, but instead merely some spells to deflect casual inspection- it was as if this aide took no precautions against a wizard trained by the Eight Masters, and that worried Thomas.

Not wanting to delay himself further, Thomas returned to the table and sat.

“My journal, as requested, sir.” Thomas said to James, “I reviewed it to be certain that what you desired was present; I marked the pages accordingly.”

“Thank you, Thomas. Please, be seated.” James said, taking the journal.

As Thomas regained his seat, James made a show of flipping through the journal to find the indicated pages. Thomas again leaned in close and whispered, gesturing to the pages as he did so.

“The aide is not human, sir.” Thomas said, “Yet he appears so, as what spells he has working about him are minimal precautions against detection.”

James glanced at Thomas’s face and saw the worry on it.

“Thomas, let us see where this aide stands in the garrison.” James said, “If he avoids the Eight Masters’ students, then we have him.”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Paladin-Part 2

As the sun dipped below the tree-covered islands across the bay, the people of the White Tower gathered about its base for a great banquet to celebrate the emergence of the first generation born after the Rain of Azure Flames into adults. The elder generation, and those children yet too young to go away for training, spent a great deal of time preparing the grounds for the event. Those youths still in training receive furloughs for the event, allowing them to visit their families.

James arrived with the rest of his training cohort, marching in during the ceremonial entrance of the graduating trainees at the head of his class. Assembled next them was the women’s cohort, finishing their training at the Hospital, and both cohorts wearing their full ceremonial uniforms. Only James stood out, wearing the colors of the Company of the Tower, but people talk and by that evening everyone already knew that James received something of note from the Archmage earlier that day- the sight of the Tower’s colors merely answered the question of the specifics.

Once arrived and seated, the leadership of the People of the White Tower entered. Within moments, the Masters—the Archmage’s former students—arrived followed by the Marshals, the Artificers, the Midwives and the First of the Iron Men. Finally, David and the Archmage arrived flanked by the Second and the Third of the Iron Men as an honor guard. The Archmage proclaimed that the feast must begin, and the people assembled did not hesitate to enjoy the bounty before them. A long time of food, fellowship and drink passed before the Archmage again seized the attention of the community.

“My children,” the Archmage said, “I have found the villain that gives will and purpose to the monsters and mutants we’ve struggled against for so long. He let his guard down, thinking himself immune to my sight, and in that mistake comes our chance to undo him utterly!”

The people, especially the elders, roared with applause as they remembered the many friends and family slain by them or lost to them over the long years since the Azure Flames.

“Yet we of the elder generation find ourselves stretched to our limits. As we feast here, many of you have fathers, brothers, husbands or sons standing watch along the walls and atop the towers that keep us safe from those same enemies. As we feast here, many of you have mothers, sisters, wives or daughters hurrying about the Hospital, visiting the infirmaries of our outposts or calling upon those too ill to leave their homes. As we feast here there are others, whose names go unspoken lest unfriendly winds carry those words to the ears of our enemies, who do the necessary work that we require to lead our warriors to victory.”

James glanced about him, taking notice that everyone around him sat silent, their attention captured completely by the Archmage’s address.

“I conferred with the others present, and we agreed that we must place our trust in our emerging generation of young adults. We reviewed the reports made amongst the warriors, and from them we chose a cadre from the best amongst them. They shall go forth and bring our justice to the mastermind of our enemies, ending this threat to our community, and prove their worth in the ancient manner- by putting the enemy to the sword in battle.”

Again, the people cheered their approval.

“Harold Arthur James, stand now and be recognized.” David said, and James did as bidden.

“Harold James is now one of the Company of the Tower, named as such by the Archmage earlier today. He shall lead the expedition to the villain’s lair.”

All, save the Iron Men, applauded. Not that they all knew him, but they all trusted the Archmage’s discretion; the current members of the Company all enjoy excellent reputations for martial prowess as well as social graces, as shown by being based out of the very White Tower- the Tower Company are as close to an order of palace knights as this ruined world allows.

As for the Iron Men, these sorcerous automatons are few in number—there are only a dozen—and they seem as emotionless as those said to exist in the world before the Azure Flames ruined it all. Yet they knew the tongues of men, and when David announced James being named to the Tower Company they saluted.

Then the Archmage stood again. “Stand and be recognized, Samuel Joshua Thomas.”

From the back of the feasting tables, a slim boyish youth of a man stood. He wore the tunic of the Eight Masters, marking him as an apprentice to the magicians that rules the People of the White Tower.

“Thomas,” David said, “you shall accompany James as his vizier, so that magic may fight magic and steel fight steel.”

Applause again arose from the feasting people, for they knew well the value of the Eight Masters and the Archmage- and the supernatural powers that those men wielded on their behalf.

“From amongst the warriors we choose ten others. Together, you twelve shall go forth into the wilds and make your way to the enemy’s lair. You shall smite him dead, and then come home.” David said, to the approval of the community.