The man knew from the beginning that he couldn't expect to succeed. He had fully prepared for it. The entire plan centered on his being there, and if the plan fell, the darkness would swarm across the continent. Even if he died, as long as he was there, he could delay them. And as long as he could delay them, the plan would succeed. He padded silently away from the window he had been gazing out. There was one more thing left to be done before the plan was put into motion. The boy had to be taken to safety. In the days before the plan would be put in action, he could ensure that, whatever the outcome, at least his son would survive.

Teneil gazed down at his son, sleeping upon the small pallet that had been made up for him. The boy was everything he could have wanted, quick-witted and good with his hands, and gaining more skill in the art with every passing day. If his training could be continued, Gerek would grow to be a powerful man, in many ways. But such was the way the wheels of Fate turned. Teneil knew that, if nothing else went right tonight, at least his son would be okay. The guild would see to that much for him. He knelt beside his sleeping son, and gently shook the boy.

"Boy, it's time to wake up. We have to be riding soon," he said in a firm but quiet voice as the boy rose from his slumber.

Gerek looked out the window at the night skies and the darkened landscape below them. "But Pop, it's nighttime. Shouldn't we wait until morning?"

Teneil shook his head. "We have to leave now son. Is your bag still packed?"

Gerek nodded, and Teneil looked over at the small bag. It didn't hold much, just the things the boy had been able to bring when they left home. A few of the possessions dearest to him, mementos of their past. His own bag held items of importance, items that he dared not let fall into the hands of the dark ones. If he fell tonight, they would be passed on to Gerek. The boy was not ready to deal with that fate yet, but he would have to be, if that scenario arose.

Teneil flexed his arms, feeling muscles and tendons bulge briefly. "Boy, I'm going out to investigate the area. Stay here and don't make any noise until I come back. If I don't come back... if I don't come back, then make your way to the place I told you about. Do you remember where that is?" The boy nodded. "Good. Until you get there, don't tell anybody you're name. I hope it won't come to that though. My hope is that we will both be able to go to Goraman, together."

He couldn't keep a tear from escaping, and Gerek saw it. "Pop, are you going to be okay?"

"I certainly hope so, son," Teneil said. He stooped down and wrapped the boy in a hug. "Remember, don't leave, and don't make any noise. I should be back within the hour."

"Be careful, Pop," the boy whispered as Teneil stood up.

"Always, son. Always," Teneil said as he walked to the other side of the small room, and donned his coat, dark blue and a rough cut, and put on his sword belt. He opened the door, leading to the outside of the small shed they had been hiding in. The night was dark, with clouds scattered across the sky, and only a thin beam of moonlight to light his path. The thick fog that had hindered the journey into the forest had increased over the hours of the night, and now the ground below his feet was all but swallowed within it. The tall, thick trees of the forest blocked even more of the light, and any number of wild creatures could have hidden among the trunks and branches. Wild creatures and other things. Even with the path hidden beneath the fog, he remembered it well enough, and was a skilled enough woodsmn to avoid the branches and twigs along it, even without being able to see them.

He scouted for a time, skulking around the forest, carefully observing the path which he and Gerek had earlier traveled down to reach the shed they now hid in. He had not wanted to have to tell his son everything, especially not that, in all likelihood, he was not going to be at all okay. The plan would fail. He knew that from the moment he had reached the edge of the forest. Truly, he had known it before, but had not wanted to admit the fact.

But his discovery of the body of Heran Tomal, with Imperial-style arrows firmly planted in his chest, was the final indicator. Heran had been the leader of their small conspiracy, and he was the string binding the plotters, as well as the key to the entire plan. Without him, the plan, if they could even still successfully manage to enact it, would do nothing. Many things would be lost this night because failure of the plan, and many people would die, good, honest, hard-working people, not just soldiers and nobility. All he could hope to do was to exact vengeance for the death of his brother. He could do nothing else, with the searchers now between him and the shed. He could never hope to get back, and trying to do so could lead them to it, and to the boy. They believed the boy dead, and they had to keep believing it.

As he straightened and walked towards the soldiers, he kept his face composed, not showing the fury that boiled within him. The fury could not aid him now, only when he channeled it into the blade, and the blade would not be used, not yet. He had need to talk to the Imperials first. The guards surrounding the small camp saw him and rushed forward, but stopped suddenly at a command from behind.

"Hold your spears," came the cold voice of the man in the black armor who obviously led these men. The men who had killed his brother, and even now searched for him. "Tomal, you've saved us a great deal of trouble. I am sorry old friend, but it is over. You are going die, just as your brother did."

"Valmel," growled Teneil, allowing a sliver of his fury to appear on his face.

"It is not my wish, but I will allow you to die like a man at least. Draw your sword and face me."

Teneil drew his sword, the blade shining blue in the silvery moonlight. It was short as swords went, extending only an arm's length from the hilt, but the blade had slain opponents easily who had thought they had a range advantage against him.

"Finish him quickly Valmel," came the voice of another man, one dressed in a cloak with a hood that shrouded his features, as he rode up from behind the black-armored Valmel.

"Silence!" commanded Valmel as he gave his companion a passing glance.

"You have betrayed me Valmel. We have fought alongside each other many times, our children were to be married one day, and now you have betrayed everything we stood for!"

"Teneil, when will you understand? I have a family I must worry about. I cannot die and leave them to suffer."

"I also had a family, before the Emperor came to Haerlon," Teneil spoke in a low voice that betrayed no more of his fury than was shown on his stone face.

"I take no pleasure in your death," said Valmel calmly as he rushed forward and thrust his spear forward. It struck deep into Teneil's stomach before the man could think to parry, sending the man to the ground as he screamed in pain. He twisted the spear, then backed away, looking down at the man who had once been his friend. "So is the agreement broken, and our bond with it. In the name of the Emperor, I have slain he who I once called friend," he spoke quietly over the body, before pulling out the spear. he then turned to his small group of searchers. "Our task here is completed. We return to the Center to report to the Emperor."


Gerek stared out the window. The sun had risen, without any sign of his father. He knew what must have happened, but he hoped with lal of his heart against it.

"Father..." he whispered, as he picked up the two bags and slipped out the door.